Meet MMM: Trish Biers — Mors Mortis Museum

More about Mors Mortis Museum this week! Read more about my amazing co-conspirator in all things death, museums, and human remains – Dr. Trish Biers!

I remember the night so vividly, my father and I stood behind a burgundy velvet rope waiting to go into the cinema. I didn’t know what to expect, it was quite a grown-up movie for me and the excitement around opening night was a big deal for a little girl. Seeing Raiders of the Lost […]

via Meet MMM: Trish Biers — Mors Mortis Museum

Meet MMM: Katie Clary — Mors Mortis Museum

Hey, it’s me! Read more about my work with Trish Biers and Mors Mortis Museum here. How did I get into death studies? What are my research goals? Maybe this blog will answer some of those questions. MMM has some great things coming up, and we are excited to get together again in the UK this fall at the Association for Death and Society conference at University of Bath.

This post introduces MMM co-founder Dr. Katie Clary and her entry into death studies as a museum professional. Be on the lookout for more blogs from Dr. Clary and Dr. Biers this summer! In 2015 I was on the job market after leaving a position of Executive Director of a Historic House Museum in Tennessee, USA. […]

via Meet MMM: Katie Clary — Mors Mortis Museum

Repost: Welcome to MMM!

This post is from one of my new ventures with fellow museum/death colleague, Dr. Trish Biers. Read more about our work in public engagement, museums, human remains, and death at MorsMortisMuse.wordpress.com, and on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook at @MorsMortisMuse

Welcome to Mors Mortis Museum!

Screen Shot 2019-03-02 at 12.11.27 PMMors Mortis Museum began as an international collaboration between Drs. Trish Biers and Katie Clary in 2017. In 2019 we launched a social media presence, and we plan to continue to grow our collective with blogs, interviews, meet-ups, and workshops or a conference. One of the main purposes of the group is to foster conversation that will lead to better practice and protocol for how museums and institutions do public engagement with human remains. Additionally, we hope to help create conversation with new narratives about collecting and acquisition along with evaluating how museums are responding to increasing transparency about their collections.

Please feel free to contact us with questions, comments, pitches for blogs, more information, or just for a chat. You can also read more about us, our motives, and the people behind MMM on our About Us page.

We are compiling a working list of Information and Resources about death, museums, human remains, and more.  Please contact us or comment to let us know about resources we should include. This is a growing and evolving list that is no where near comprehensive (yet!).

Find us on Twitter @MorsMortisMuse, and on Facebook and don’t forget to subscribe or follow our our blog.

Looking forward to many conversations, workshops, and more in the future,
Trish + Katie

via Welcome to MMM! — Mors Mortis Museum

DaCNet 2: Day 2

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Day 2 opened with, “Corpses in Cabinets,” my own panel, which included fantastic women scholars from around the world, but also FROM MY HOME STATE!

Imagine my surprise when I realized the first speaker, Melissa Schrift, was from East Tennessee State University, 2 hours from my hometown. How cool to travel all the way to England to meet someone from home who is doing super cool, and in some ways similar work, to my own. Melissa spoke on, “Race, bodies and spectacle in 19th century living exhibitions,” which was super exciting for me, since a large part of my dissertation and previous work was on freakshows and exhibitions of people with disabilities or difference. One of her case studies was that of Charles Byrne, “The Irish Giant,” whose body is still on display and causing controversy at the Hunterian in London. I spoke next on human remains in museums, then Jenny Bergman and Kicki Eldh presented “Death –a concern?” about human remains in Swedish museums.

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Last, but certainly not least, curators Katherine Baxter and Ruth Martin from Leeds Museums and Galleries presented, “Displaying the dead: public reactions to human skeletons in museums.” I loved this one! They shared the museum’s human remains policy as well as photography policies. Leeds Museums have also integrated these big questions of museums displaying and photographing the dead into their exhibitions to involve the museum stakeholders and visitors in the process. Note to self: I have GOT to get myself to the Leeds Museums and want to chat more with Katherine and Ruth on their work.

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I am not exaggerating when I say this conference was basically made for me. The next session I attended was “Bodies on View,” which included a paper on TLC and other television programming (which I’ve written about before as the modern freakshow) and reliquaries and “bone churches.” First up, Agata Korecka tackled “Death, dying and light entertainment” through medical reality television. Shows in the UK like Embarassing Bodies, or US-based shows like My 600 Pound Life, and a variety of other programs depict people with medical issues for entertainment or education. Sometimes, the subjects of those shows die, such as in the case of Robert Buchel, who died soon after filming. Korecka examined public reactions to the show during the airing, and then after the announcement of his death during the program. Kelsey Perreault ended the session with, “The Church of Bones and the human rights of the dead.” She explored a church in that displays the bones of various individuals in patterns across the chapel, and the treatment of these bones as a dark tourist destination. One audience question was about the gift shop offerings and commodification of the dead. Perreault also addressed questions about “protecting the dignity of the dead.” So good!!

20180907_161715My last session of the day was “Digital Reimaginings” with Kelly Richards and Matt Coward. Kelly did an amazing job discussing “Reimagining the personification of Death in popular culture” with a talk that included comics, movies, and other popular culture and their depictions of death. Her multimedia presentation included some fantastic video clips (Bill and Ted! Mighty Boosh!!) and she even finished the session with a great rebuttal of some quite strange questions.. Wonderful job, Kelly! Matt ended the conference with a bang, discussing death and video games. I learned about some new games I want to play (Graveyard Keeper!) and now have a different perspective of seeing death spaces in video games, as well (not cool to ransack graves, God of War).

And just like that, DaCNet 2 was done. I hope to see a lot of the same folks at the14th International Conference on the Social Context of Death, Dying and Disposal in Bath next year. Until then…

Guest Post: Art and Museums with Charles Clary

As I’ve detailed before (here, here, and in random snarky comments throughout), I have a lot of feelings about art museums.  Luckily, I’m engaged to an artist!  I asked him to answer some questions as an artist for my understanding, and for the understanding of my readers.

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Charles Clary, Artist Extraordinaire

Learn more about artist Charles Clary on his website and see his most up-to-date work on his instagram feed!

I’m hoping to write more about art museums and interdisciplinary studies more in the future – I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below!

Q.  Why are art museums important?

A. Art museums are a place in which the people can enjoy the labors of the individuals capturing the feeling and the mood of a society at any particular time in history. Art collections are great and to the extent that one can amass a collection – I’m all for it. But many people lock those pieces into private collections, usually away from the society to which the art was created. Museums allow for the lending of these works to museums that can show case them prominently and within a historical context so that everyone can enjoy these precious objects.
This seems like it might make an art museum more interesting!

This seems like it might make an art museum more interesting!

Q.  What is the difference between a gallery and a museum?

A. A gallery is run much like a business, in many cases for profit. Now, there are non-profit galleries as well as alternative space galleries and pop up galleries that seek to showcase the content of the work for free, but many galleries are set up as for-profit spaces. That’s not to say galleries are only concerned with making money, but it is a part of the art world and the experience. A museum is a place free from the pressure of sales, which allows the artist to delve deeper into their process and content, to go bigger, and to explore their work in a more challenging way.
Q.  What is history’s place in art museums?
A. History is forever linked to art. Art speaks to the time in which it was created; it’s a moment captured in paint, or chisled into marble. Art has the ability to become a time capsule or a snapshot of a moment in time that we would never be able to witness without the work. History influences the creation of art, either through religion or individuals. There was often a patron who bankrolled the work, which also influenced the artist. Every great society or time period – Egyptian, Roman, Greek, European Renaissance, Middle East – is defined by the art work and utilitarian devices they created.
Is it?

Is it?

Q.  What’s with the boring labels that tell me no history?

A.  Art is an experience, not a bumper sticker. If the story is all given away in the beginning or in the title, then why spend time with the work? It’s the process of discovering what the work is about through key visuals or clues within the work that forms the narrative;  it’s exciting to put two and two together. In most museum exhibitions, the entrance has a description of the artist and what might have been going on at that time in history and where the movement might have been or where it was to go. Museums also have great audio tours that attempt to quantify the work being viewed and situate it into a context that makes it make sense.
Q.  Which is your favorite art museum?
A.  I’m a big fan of the Pompidou in Paris France it’s a fantastic art museum that explores all aspects of contemporary art: design, sculpture, installation art, furniture design, painting so on and so forth. I also love the Louvre for the rich history of painting and sculpture. As far as galleries I’m a huge fan of Pierogi Gallery in Brooklyn and what they do to advance contemporary art both in their man space as well as in their space called The Boiler meant for large scale sometimes interactive installations.
At Kilmainhaim Gaol

At Kilmainhaim Gaol

Q. Favorite history museum/site?

A.  I really enjoyed the Kilmainham Gaol in Dublin.  The stories of people, their lives, and their times had a huge impact on me, and was one of my favorite parts of our first time in Ireland.  Belfast was also interesting, as a more modern historical site, and the commemorative murals there do a great job of combining memory, art, and history.
Q.  How can art and history museums work together, or history museums with artists?
A.  I think both need to realize that one is not more important than the other. History defines society, society defines History through art. The more they can work together to describe the advancements in technology and culture through the images and objects that are left behind the better for all involved.
Thanks, Charles!  Now, tell me all about Marcel Duchamp….
What do YOU think about art and art museums?  Any other artists interested in answering similar questions or engaging in a dialogue?

Accessible Programs in Archaeology and Museums

Thanks to Dr. Robert Connolly at Archaeology, Museums & Outreach for the review of my session at AASLH last week. My own updates and reviews from AASLH in St. Paul coming soon!

Other Voices

kstringer-coverThis past week I attended the American Association of State and Local History (AASLH) annual meeting in St. Paul, Minnesota.  I have come to expect the unexpected when I attend professional meetings.  Perhaps the greatest unexpected highlight of the AASLH conference was a session organized by my former student and now colleague, Katie Stringer titled “Welcoming All Visitors: Accessible Programs at History Museums and Sites.” Through her dissertation research, Katie has developed considerable expertise in this area.  She recently published Programming For People With Special Needs: A Guide For Museums and Historic Sites.  The volume focuses on seven key components needed to create effective museum experiences for individuals with special needs.  Based on her work in Tennessee, the book also draws on case studies as disparate as New York’s Museum of Modern Art and the Brooklyn’s Transit Museum.  The 110 page volume is a concise primer filled with…

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My book is out!

How did I let a month go by without posting this immediately?  A sign of the life of a museum director, I suppose.  In this week’s adventures, my assistant found a squatter set up on the back porch of our secondary historic home. Playing Xbox.

Anyway… without further ado…

That's my name! On the front of my book!

That’s my name! On the front of my book!

In case you haven’t followed the story of publication and proposals and writing and so forth, here is a short description:

Programming for People with Special Needs: A Guide for Museums and Historic Sites will help museums and historic sites become truly inclusive educational experiences. The book is unique because it covers education and inclusion for those with both intellectual and learning disabilities.

The book features the seven key components of creating effective programming for people with special needs, especially elementary and secondary students with intellectual disabilities:

  • 1442227605Sensitivity and awareness training
  • Planning and communication
  • Timing
  • Engagement and social/life skills
  • Object-centered and inquiry-based programs
  • Structure
  • Flexibility


In addition, this book features and discusses programs such as the Museum of Modern Art‘s Meet Me program and ones for children with autism at the Transit Museum in Brooklyn as models for other organizations to adapt for their use.

Its focus on visitors of all ages who have cognitive or intellectual disabilities or special needs makes this title essential for all museum and historic site professionals, especially educators or administrators, but also for museum studies students and those interested in informal education.

I already have two reviews of the book, too!  Here is what my esteemed colleagues had to say about the book:
Programming for People with Special Needs is an invaluable manual with clear, concise examples of how museums benefit when they open their doors, exhibits, and programming to all audiences in a community. A commitment to common-sense universal design principles opens the dialogue about what matters in our history and culture to every citizen, thus enriching our communities through better education and community engagement.
— Carroll Van West, director of the Center for Historic Preservation at Middle Tennessee University, and Tennessee State Historian

Programming for People with Special Needs is an important new resource for any museum or historic site serious about expanding their current audience base and preparing for tomorrow’s visitors. While the ADA already requires us to accommodate visitors’ physical needs, it is equally important that our programs consider the needs of visitors experiencing various forms of learning and intellectual disabilities, including memory loss, especially since their numbers are expected to increase dramatically over the next several decades. This thorough and practical volume can help your institution accomplish this goal and, in turn, become a museum or historic site better prepared for the future.
— Karen Graham Wade, director, Homestead Museum, City of Industry, California

I hope that if you work at a historic site, historic house, history museum, or small museum that you will encourage your supervisor or staff to read this book.  I really did approach this topic with real-world implications in mind.
You can purchase the book from the publisher on their website.  I suggest hardcover. 😉
Thanks everyone for their support throughout this project, especially my parents, my Charles, Dr. West, and my publisher at R&L Charles.

The British Museum: Elgin Marbles, Cabinet of Curiosities, and Overwhelming Spaces

British Museum front facade

British Museum front facade

On the best day in London ever, I had a chance to visit the British Museum, which was a dream come true.  For years, I’ve read about the museum, longed to see the Elgin Marbles and Rosetta Stone, and I even used the museum in my dissertation as an example of the old paradigm of museums.

Old paradigm, indeed.

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In the entryway

I’ve recently come to realize that I just don’t love huge museums.  I didn’t really like the Met, I really didn’t like the Tate (next blog coming soon), and the Natural History Museum in NYC was just ok for me.  Why is this?  I’m a museum person! I’m still thinking it all out, but I think it might have to do with the exhaustion of vacation, the sheer size of the places, my feeling that I NEED to see everything, and the amount of people there.  Also, they seem like spaces for rich, old, white people most of the time.  It’s kind of like that feeling I get sometimes at big parties, where I’d rather talk to the wait staff.  Maybe I’ve just built them up so big for so many years that they couldn’t possibly live up to the hype in my mind.

Regardless, the British Museum was still impressive, and again, the Day of the Feels continued.

We walked up Drury Lane to Museum Lane, and rounded the corner to find the great British Museum.  I got really excited about what was going to come next – I mean, this is THE place!  Home of the Rosetta Stone, countless Egyptian and Middle Eastern artifacts, and bane of every museum professionals’ ethical and reasoning mind powers – the Elgin Marbles.  I had a bit of the vapors as we went in, saw the entrance, and walked through some of the Egyptian rooms – but the real feels didn’t come until…

EMOTIONS!

EMOTIONS!

We got to the room filled with the Elgin Marbles.  They were huge, and beautiful, and amazing… and I was so sad that here they were in the middle of London, instead of in Greece still on the Parthenon.  Of course, there are many pros and cons to this situation, which is why its a perfect Museums Studies class discussion.  But the current ethnic Greeks aren’t the same ones who are there now – but the Turks sold them to that British guy – but otherwise they would be destroyed – but but but – I really can’t decide what is right or wrong in this case.  All of that aside, they were astounding to see.

Elgin Marbles!

Elgin Marbles!

Charles dragged me along, I saw the Rosetta Stone and felt/got felt by a ton of people trying to do the same thing, and the rest of the museum is kind of a blur.  I remember seeing some goat mosaics, and the large library-esque room.

I have many leather-bound books and my apartment smells of rich mahogany.

I have many leather-bound books and my apartment smells of rich mahogany.

The British Museum also seemed a bit, like most huge museums, to be a Cabinet of Curiosities gone wild.  There is a hodge-podge of  anything and everything there.  Some of it was thrilling to see, and some of it seemed to be a testament to colonial conquests.

We saw all the things and stuff,  as you can see in the pictures below, but by the time we got to the more modern exhibit of watches and timepieces, I grabbed a small stool and sat in a hall while Charles explored some more.

Final thoughts – I am an expert spotter of goats, both in the wild, and especially in museums.

Also, I can’t decide if I have memory fatigue from that day because of the sheer size of the collection and space, or if it was because of the reasons raised in this fantastic article on the Huffington Post called “Why Taking Photos At Museums Is Hindering Your Memory. “When people rely on technology to remember for them — counting on the camera to record the event and thus not needing to attend to it fully themselves — it can have a negative impact on how well they remember their experiences,” Henkel explains in a description of the study.”

It was nice to get back into the fresh air as we walked on to the Richard II performance.  I’m still processing the whole visit to the British Museum, but I wouldn’t say I DIDN’T like it.  It was just a little overwhelming.  I also can’t say I’d particularly want to go back to it, either.

Hopefully someday, I’ll think some more about the visit and update this blog with more thoughts and feels…

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London: A Walk Through History and Modernity

We woke up the next morning, December 30, after a pleasant night full of chicken curry and great sleep, ready to take on the streets of London.

LondonWe started the day with Cafe Nero (thanks for the suggestion, Kelsey!) hot chocolate and espresso.  Cafe Nero quickly became a twice-daily part of our time in London.  There was one right across the street from the flat, and the public restrooms in the cafes throughout the city were an added bonus.  We also stopped by a little bookstore to buy a pocket map of the city.  Luckily, I have an impeccable sense of direction, AND I was a geography minor, so we didn’t even come close be being lost (not that we could have been, since we were just wandering!).

Having the feelings

Having the feelings

The day started out perfectly misty and damp, just how London should be.  We crossed the mighty (brown) Thames to the Embankment where we saw a beautiful World War II memorial, a great view of the Eye, and Parliament and Big Ben.  This is a great intersection of the modern and historical sides of London.  The Thames has been the center of life in London from the time of Henry VIII,  William the Conqueror, and even earlier.  The Millennium Wheel, or London Eye, is a once controversial sign of modern London.  The timelessness (ha!) of Big Ben is iconic, and the history made in and around Parliament is also impressive.  Needless to say, I was overwhelmed with all the feelings about history.

An accurate depiction of me outside Westminster Abbey. Thanks, Sherlock.

By the time we turned the corner and saw Westminster Abbey, I was having even more feelings. Let’s just take a second here to recount just a few of the things that have happened here.

  • Construction on the present church began in 1245 by Henry III (he’s also buried there)
  • Before that, William the Conqueror and his successors were coronated on the same site
  • Survives the Tudor era and all the there and back again of Catholic/Protestant rule
  • Weddings: Henry I of England to Matilda of Scotland, Queen Elizabeth II to Phillip, and Will and Kate of course!
  • People buried there: kings and queens (excluding 2 of my favs: Henry VIII and Richard II),   Geoffrey Chaucer Isaac Newton, and  Charles Darwin
Charles and the Arch

Charles and the Arch

We didn’t pay the fee to go in, but I did fangirl appropriately outside, and buy a tiny gargoyle and some tea in the giftshop.

Next, we decided to go ahead and see Buckingham Palace and see where the day took us from there.  The weather cleared up, and the sun even showed itself!  We walked through the park, saw some geese, then turned the corner to the iconic palace.  I didn’t have as many feelings here, but I did try to keep an eye out for the queen!  We walked along the royal apartments, took a picture with the changing guards, saw Charles’ favorite spot up to this point, Admiralty Arch, and then continued on to Trafalgar Square.

and we'll never be royals.. that kinda lux just ain't for us.

and we’ll never be royals.. that kinda lux just ain’t for us.

In Trafalgar, we stopped at yet another Cafe Nero, saw the lions and Napoleon, and a big blue chicken.  Since we were already out and about, we made the quickest of stop at a McDonalds (reminiscent of our first morning in Dublin) for a cheeseburger on the go – no stopping for real food on this day of site-seeing! At this point, we figured why not go on and go all out – we walked up Drury Lane (of muffin Man fame!) to the British museum (where I again had all the feels – but that’s a topic for another blog, coming next week!). – Spoiler alert – I got emotional about the Elgin Marbles.

From the British Museum, we walked on to the Barbican Centre for one of the many highlights of the trip: David Tennant, the 10th Doctor himself, starring in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s performance of Richard II.  Seriously – what a day of emotions, and I am not an emotional person (it’s the Britishness I inherited – stiff upper lip!). I mentioned in a recent blog that he is my dream guest blogger – still waiting on that call, Davy!  The performance was great, we loved it, then we waited out by the back stage door for him to emerge in all of his hair-extension-ponytailed glory.  I was so close, that had I not been so polite, I could have touched him.  The ponytail served as a great repellent.

Instead of a tackle or full contact hug, I just did a weak little wave.  Safe, but lame.

Instead of a tackle or full contact hug, I just did a weak little wave. Safe, but lame.

Walking on air, we went over to the Jugged Hare for the best dinner of all time.  Charles had the slow roasted rump of a Hertfordshire Fallow Deer, and I had a meat pie.  I don’t think this one was cooked by Mrs. Mooney or Mrs. Lovett, but it was certainly deserving of a song of how great it was.  The deer rump was the most delicious piece of meat I have ever tasted.

We started back to the flat around midnight, and passed Saint Paul’s Cathedral along the way.  This was one of the (if not THE) most impressive sights we saw on the trip – and we saw an awful lot of stuff. We had seen it in the distance earlier in the day, and it is an iconic part of the London skyline.  Seeing it in person, bigger than life, was something else.  None of the pictures can do it justice.

London-0630

St. Paul’s at Night

We continued along the Thames, which was the only time I was slightly uncomfortable in London – along the river, at midnight, under bridges.  Maybe we should have taken a different route.  Things were a wee bit confusing as the city was preparing to set up for the fireworks on New Years Eve.  Regardless, we made it back to the flat and passed out from a day full of excitement.

To sum it up, looking back on the day’s events, this was possibly one of the very best days of my life (surpassed by the day before when I got engaged in northern Ireland and that time I graduated with a PhD).

Next time:

  • Actually go in Westminster Abbey
  • Climb to the top of St. Paul’s
  • Ride the London Eye
  • Museum of London
  • Go back to the Jugged Hare
london day 1

Day 1 in London

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May Day 2014 – Constant Vigilance!

In the immortal words of Mad-Eye Moody (or Barty Crouch aka the 10th Doctor, David Tennant depending on the book), “Constant Vigilance!”  Not only will it protect you from the Dark Arts, it can also save your museum, archive, or historic site in the event of a disaster.

How is this the first gif I’ve used on this site? Expect many more of these in the future….

Today is once again MAY DAY.  Last year I wrote about preparedness, and in the midst of the problems in Egypt, I wrote about the destruction at the Egyptian Museum.

This year I was asked to lead a workshop for the Tennessee Association of Museums for other museum professionals… I decided to take the Scare Tactics route.  Share as many horrible stories as possible, some with good endings, some with horrible, no good, very bad endings – then offer solutions so that professionals are prepared!

BE PREPARED! - Scar

BE PREPARED! – Scar

bepreparedhyenas

I dunno… Maybe…

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Massive Floods

Cow-in-a-tornado-from-the-movie-Twister

Tornadoes and flying cows?

 

The apocalypse?

The apocalypse?

 

Or perhaps worst of all, a:

SHARKNADO!?

SHARKNADO!?

Ok, maybe not.  But there are plenty of horrible things that could happen in your own backyard, such as sinkholes, water main breaks (this one was WAY too close to work for my comfort), vandalism, and countless other things we don’t like to think about.

While we can’t prevent these things from happening every time, we can be prepared and practice constant vigilance! I’ve prepared a list of several resources that are helpful for museums.  Some favorite are:

A complete list is available here.

What is YOUR worst fear at a museum or historic site?  Have any experiences with an disasters?  Share in the comments below: