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

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…

Fall 2017 Student Blog: Archaeology and Public History

This is the twelfth in a series of Tuesday re-blogs of my student work from our HIST395 course. Please enjoy these blogs written by Coastal Carolina University students.

This blog is by student Bryan Maldonado about Archaeology and Public History.

By Bryan Maldonado DIRT: Archaeology, Artifacts, Bones, and Organizations Archaeology is the study of ancient and recent human remains or material like artifacts in order to get more information about the past culture and the way of life. Artifacts are more than just a rare or ancient object they also tell archaeologist a story or […]

via DIRT: Archaeology, Artifacts, Bones, and Organizations — Journey into Public History

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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Eleven Questions for Museum Bloggers

Quick break from travel to the museum world again!

Playing with an 80'sversion of a museum interactive at the American Museum of Science and Energy in Oak Ridge, TN

Playing with an 80’sversion of a museum interactive at the American Museum of Science and Energy in Oak Ridge, TN

Last month the Berlin Museum of Natural History launched a series of eleven questions for museum bloggers on Museum Blogger Day.  Max van Balgooy, museum consultant extraordinaire and blogger over at Engaging Places posted his answers, and I’m following his example.  As Max said on his blog, he “received the list of questions from Gretchen Jennings of Museum Commons, who received it from Linda Norris at the Uncatalogued Museum, who received it from Jamie Glavic at Museum Minute, who received it from Jenni at Museum Diary, who received it from the Museum Things blog at Natureskundemuseum.   I suppose this might be a new version of the old “chain letter,” but more fun and with no dire consequences if you fail to participate (and of course, the questions were modified along the way, just like a telephone tree).”

1. Who are you and what do you like about blogging?

I am a person interested in all aspects of history, museums, public history, travel, tourism, and so much more.  I wrote a whole blog about how I got to this place in my life, which is available here.  I have a PhD in Public History, I’m the Executive Director of a historic house in Knoxville, Tennessee, I wrote a book about education and access at historic houses and sites for people with special needs and disabilities, and I love goats.  I love blogging, especially post-graduation, because it keeps me active in the field, thinking about issues, and learning more about topics I’m interested in.  It also connects me to some pretty fantastic people out there in the museum world.

2. What search terms lead people to your blog?

Ever since Abby and Tori did guest blogs as part of a series on TLC programming as the modern sideshow, Honey Boo Boo is a major search term.  Also, ancient aliens and variations on that, thanks to a blog about the horrid abomination that is the “History” Channel.  My name is also a popular search term, which is sufficiently creepy. Here is a chart of the top search terms:

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3. How long have you been blogging, and has your blog changed in any way since you began it?  How?  

My very first blog was posted in July of 2010, soon after I graduated from the University of Memphis.  I began blogging at the suggestion of the esteemed Dr. Robert Connolly, who served as one of the greatest museum mentors I could ever ask for.  Looking back at my earliest blogs, I started with some reflections on programs I had worked on, starting the PhD Program, updates, conferences, and random musings on topics related to my interests.  Things have not changed too much, other than my recent shift towards travel and tourism on the heels of my first trip to Europe.

4. Which post on your blog is your personal favorite?

I’ve REALLY loved all of my reflections on my trip to Britain and Ireland earlier this year.  I also like the posts about Freaks and Sideshows, and of course, my wonderful bashing of Ancient Aliens.  The TLC series was a ton of fun, too.

5. If you had a whole week just to blog: which subject would you like to thoroughly research and write about?

I would travel throughout Europe and review all of the museums, of course!  Alternatively, I have a pile of drafts started on various museum topics such as effective tour guides, disaster planning, and a guest blog about art museums by my wonderful fiance.  I really would love to do more about art museums and my intense feelings about them.  All of this will be coming up in the next several months as I find the time to write.

6.  If you could ask anyone to be a guest blogger, who would that be?

Ryan Gosling!

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Or Tim Gunn!

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Or really, the REAL Dream: David Tennant! (David – CALL ME!)

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7. Share your favorite photo that you took at a museum or historic site.

At the Tower of London, near the scaffold memorial, December 31, 2013

At the Tower of London, near the scaffold memorial, December 31, 2013

8.  What was the last museum you visited and what was the experience like?

Other than my workplace or quick jaunts to places around town, the last place I REALLY visited was the Natural History Museum in New York City.  I had a lot of feelings about it, so I can’t really describe the experience right now other than in the most basic terms: disappointing, overwhelming, enraging (mostly the queue process at Will Call), and just kinda meh.  I’ll elaborate more later…

9.  If time and money were no object, what museum [or historic site – KS edit] would you most like to visit?

ALL the museums.  Namely: Museum of London, Westminster Abbey (I cried when I saw the outside), Field Museum in Chicago… back to the Smithsonian, Mount Vernon again, NYC Museum…. I need to think on this more and make a list.

10. What’s the biggest lesson you have learned from a failure? [KS Edit – From a success?]

Communication is key!  Most problems are caused by a lack of communication or a simple miscommunication.  Alternatively, good communication and partnership can lead to some of the best successes – any project I’ve worked on with a museum that has been successful was due to the partnerships and teamwork of dedicated individuals.

11.  If you could work anywhere, what museum would you like to work in?

Tough question – ANY museum in Ireland, Scotland, Wales, or England!

Disaster Planning Code Red – What Can We Learn from the Tragedies in Egypt?

With the  atmosphere in Egypt being what it is, most historians and archaeologists knew it was only a matter of time before aspects of the rich Egyptian history and material culture were destroyed.  Among all the other heartbreaking stories of the massive loss of human life and looting, the story of the Mallawi Museum in Egypt stands out as one of the greatest cultural tragedies in recent history.

The Mallawi Museum after looters took most of the collections

According to the Egypt Heritage Task Force post, around 1050 artifacts from the Mallawi Museum were looted during the nationwide protesting and unrest.  During the event, the security guards were shot at and the museum director was injured.  More recently, reports have come out that the remaining 49 objects that were too large to be looted have been burned in a fire.  In addition to the looting of institutions, many archaeological sites have been left unguarded and illegal digging has taken place to uncover items that may never be recorded by historians.

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Guest Post: Contributory, Collaborative, and Co-Creative Experiences

By: Dr. Robert Connolly

In a recent issue of the journal Collections (Vol. 7, Number 3, Summer 2011), Natalye Tate and I published an article titled “Volunteers and Collections as Viewed from the Museum Mission Statement.”  Our central thesis is that museums should not view volunteers as folks who do things for which there are not enough staff to complete. Rather, we argue that museums as public institutions should view volunteers as integral to their mission mandates to provide educational and participatory experiences.

We use a scheme presented by Nina Simon in her book The Participatory Museum to model Contributory, Collaborative and Co-creative experiences for museum volunteers.  The model is also applicable in the field of public history.

Memory board at the Rock’n’Soul Museum in Memphis, TN

Contributory Experiences are those where the public has very limited input around specific projects that are controlled by the institution. The engagement is generally brief and limited in scope.  Oral history interviews, focus groups, ethnographic mapping, and a host of other types of experiences fall into this category.  The ever popular sticky note on the wall or memory board is a common example. The participant’s desire for an opportunity to contribute at least a piece of their story, experience, or response is achieved. The institution benefits through the active engagement with the community and obtains information from the public.

Collaborative Experiences are those where the public participate as active partners in processes that are ultimately controlled by the museum. The museum sets the broad parameters in which the public operates and actively collaborates and engages with participants to be certain the project is successful. The collaborative participant is trained or possesses the skills necessary to work under less direct supervision than in contributory projects. The collaborative participant begins to envision the institution more as a support for their interests and development opportunities with their community.

City of Memory Project

A good example of a collaborative experience in public history is the City of Memory project in New York.  The public is invited to upload videos of their stories of living in New York.  The program is administered through Local Projects that in turn completely relies on public collaboration to obtain stories for the project.  Without the public input the project could not exist.  However, Local Projects ultimately determines which stories are presented on the website.  This theme of participant control in digital space is taken up in Part I of the new release Letting Go: Sharing Historical Authority in a User Generated World edited by Bill Adair, Benjamin Filene and Laura Koloski.

Smithsonian “SITES” Affiliate

Co-creative Experiences are those where the public work directly with institutions to create products based on community interests.  Co-creative participants have considerably more latitude in the creative process. In co-creative experiences the primary function of the institution is to provide the tools and logistical support for product creation.  The institution also is charged with being certain that the process and final product remains within the project parameters as defined by the granting or governing agency. Co-creative participants have a vested interest in the project and its completion.

An example of a co-creative project is the local component of the Smithsonian traveling exhibit The Way We Worked created at the Orange Mound Community Service Center in Memphis, Tennessee.  A consortium of cultural heritage professionals including faculty from the University of Memphis Museum Studies Graduate Certificate Program worked with residents of Orange Mound to create a series of photographic and didactic panels on the concept of work in this traditional African-American community of Memphis.  The consortium of technical “experts” functioned in service to the community residents who completely determined the content of the local exhibit that included defining the very concept of work during the Jim Crow Era.

“The Way We Worked” at Orange Mound Community Center

Of importance, in the Collections article we note that the three types of Experiences are not to be viewed as a hierarchy.  Rather the three types of Experiences are correctly viewed as flowing directly from the specific research questions being asked.  For example, in considering the three above examples, trying to operate a focus group as a co-creative project could not work.  In the same way, the very nature of the Orange Mound exhibit required considerably more community engagement than a contributory experience.

However, all three types are participatory experiences.  Participatory experiences aid in demonstrating the relevance of cultural heritage to the public.  Whether in museums, government, or academic institutions, we function as public servants.  As professionals, we are all on the public dole one way or the other.  We must be accountable and demonstrate our relevance to the public we serve.  I believe part of that public service is an educational process where the public we serve learns to demand of us that we properly curate their cultural heritage.  In appreciation that need, the public also takes on the responsibility for adequately funding that process.  Participatory experiences are one tool for bringing about that mutual understanding.

Robert Connolly is an Associate Professor in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Memphis and is the Director of the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa. Follow his blog at: http://rcnnolly.wordpress.com/

TAM Reflections, 2012

TAM makes us SING!

Last year I wrote a review of my Tennessee Association of Museum conference experience and how much that meeting meant to me.  This year it is coming a bit late, but I did still want to express how wonderful this annual conference is, and what it can mean for you as a museum professional or student.  The event was held in Memphis, which has a dear place in my heart.  Since I essentially started my academic career in museum studies at the University of Memphis, and I worked in several of the community museums, I was excited to get back to the city for a conference devoted to the Rock, Rhythm, and Soul of Museums.

First of all, the entire event I was surrounded by like-minded people who are all working towards similar goals.  The bonding experiences that take place at conferences, especially at special events and in the hospitality suite, are invaluable.  Sessions are obviously places where you can learn and share ideas.

Auction fun-times at the Metal Museum

Q&As during and after sessions and panels are also great experiences for meeting new people and learning about new opportunities.

One of the best things about TAM is the opportunity to visit area museums for social gatherings, dinners, the annual auction, and tours.  This year we visited the Brooks Museum of Art, Fire Museum, Metal Museum, and the National Civil Rights Museum.  These events provided places for professionals to see what museums in the mid-south are doing and talk about ideas and successes.  They also had some fun interactive exhibits, such as the fire pole at the Fire Museum, which was a big hit with everyone.

The Music Tour group at Rock N Soul Museum

Several of us also took advantage of the opportunity to go on a pre-conference tour of the music-related sites that Memphis is famous for.  We went to the Rock’n’Soul Museum, Sun Studio, and the STAX Museum of American Soul Music.  There is never enough time to see everything, but we got a good taste of the great opportunities these museums offer to the Memphis community.  Even though I lived in Memphis for two years, I never had a chance to visit Rock ‘n’ Soul or STAX, so I was grateful for the opportunity to visit these places with other museum people.  Sun Studio will always be one of my favorite sites in the city, so I couldn’t pass up the chance to visit again.  And we got to see Issac Hayes’ car, AND have a dance party.  Awesome.

One the most essential (and sometimes overlooked) part of the conference was the sessions.  I didn’t go to as many sessions as I would have liked, since I was stressing over presenting my own session for the first time at TAM.   They had many great sessions for small museums, and workshops to share ideas.  A session I did get to go to was, “Help Is on the Way! What MAP Can Do for You” with the American Association of MuseumsMuseum Assessment Program coordinator, Laura Silberman.   The main reason I wanted to attend this session is because Dr. Robert Connolly from Chucalissa shared the experiences he and the staff at Chucalissa experienced when going through this process.  Since I was a part of the MAP assessment team as a graduate student but a graduate by the time the assessment took place, I was excited to hear the changes that came about because of the program.

Natalye, rockin’ the session

The session, “Challenges and Benefits of Community Engagement: Lessons from Three Memphis Museums,” was one that I felt I had to attend.  My former professor, Dr. Leslie Luebbers, and fellow University of Memphis alumni and Chucalissa co-worker Natalye Tate were among the presenters.  The session explored the museums’ challenges, how they were negotiated.  They also talked about how the programs benefited the community and the museum, which is an essential part of museums that many times is forgotten in the everyday operations of the museum.  The Museum Studies program at Memphis has an entire class, taught by Dr. Luebbers,  all about communities and museums.

Sam, presenting like a rock star

As a student of Museum 2.0 and Nina Simon via Robert Connolly’s 2008 Museum Practices class, the session “The Participatory Museum: More Than Just a Hands-on Gig” was a must for me.  The session looked at the different types of participatory visitor experiences.  Presenters, all from the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa also talked about various case studies where visitors play an active role in determining exhibit content and move toward a stakeholder role in the institution.  Samantha Gibbs, my coworker while I was a graduate assistant, did a great job explaining the programs she developed with the participatory museum in mind!

Conference fun times!

Finally, it was a great experience to have so many people who have supported me since I started this path of museum studies at my session encouraging me and my research, as well as so many fellow graduate students and friends from MTSU.  It was a great mix of my “old” friends and coworkers in Memphis with my “new” public history and Murfreesboro friends, and I couldn’t do any of this without them.

Here’s to them!!  Enjoy these photos from the conference and the special events (especially the auction).

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Public History and Ancient History: Is There a Need?

Hopefully this blog is more interesting and thought-provoking than another business-related post…

As part of my program, this semester I am taking an Ancient Egyptian history course (again).  The twist on the class, as opposed to most classes I took in my master’s program, is more of an emphasis on public history rather than academia.  Both are important and have their place, obviously. At MTSU, I’m lucky enough to have a great professor who recognizes the importance of public history, as well as the need in the Ancient history field for more a public historian approach.

To make the course possible at a PhD level (since it involves a lecture portion to a group of undergraduates), I meet outside of regular class time with the professor, and I have extra readings.  The context of the history that I am getting is great, and we have great academic discussions.  Today (as well as in the past, but today in particular), we had a great discussion on exhibits of ancient cultures and artifacts.

What's up guys? I didn't really look like this, btw.

Have you ever been to an exhibit of Egyptian antiquities?  Greek or Roman or Mesopotamian or Chinese or anything?  What did you notice about those exhibits?  How are they presented?  How could they be improved?

These are some of the questions we discussed today.  In general, exhibits about Ancient Egypt seem impersonal and almost mystical.  Of course people love Ancient Egypt, for many reasons.  They love the gold and weirdness and the mysterious people who lived such a long time ago.  But is there any reason that the Egyptian people should be viewed as that far removed from ourselves?  Egyptians got sick and had marital problem and did laundry and even had fingernails and hair, just like us.  Wouldn’t it be beneficial to present that to people, so that they can experience Egypt or other ancient cultures themselves??

This reminded me of the Discovery Room at the Pink Palace (may it rest in peace, since it is a really sore subject for another blog at another time), and the exhibits that were displayed in the room at the time of the IMAX feature on Ancient Egypt.  There were hands on things to do in there that related to Egypt!  One could smell the smells of Egypt, such as frankincense or myrrh,  write in hieroglyphs (obligatory), and see a reproduction of a tomb wall, complete with paint.  People were able to interact with elements of Egyptian culture to an extent.

What can the big exhibits at the big museums with the big artifacts from ancient history do to make the presentation less cold and more vibrant and alive??   My professor and I came up with some pretty cool ideas (no bodies under the famous Berlin Nefertiti bust, sorry).   Some ideas could be expensive or complicated, though effective, while others really aren’t that hard to do.

In front of a reproduction in the aforementioned Discovery Room (RIP)

One interesting idea is to have a wall sections that is generally displayed as-is.  Many people think of the Egyptians as stone like, carved in stone and colorless and lifeless.  However, the walls were actually very bright (gaudy?) and painted and vibrant.  How difficult would it be to somehow project a light onto that wall that showed the colors and how it would have looked to the people?  I’m sure it could be done.  We’re pretty smart people, out here in the museum field after all, right?

Another interesting comparison was made during our discussions of intermediate periods in Egyptian history.  For all of you non-Egyptologists who may be interested, traditionally, intermediate periods (as opposed to kingdoms i.e. Old Kingdom, New Kingdom…) were seen as times of chaos and breakdown.  Sources from the ancient Egyptians, usually written after the fact, support this theory of horrible things happening: famines, death, foreigners, etc.   Primary sources from the intermediate periods themselves speak of things being in a state of breakdown, but not to the extent that later sources do.  There are several reasons for this, such as legitimization of the new king and a show of power of the new guy as compared to the previous rulers.

Migrant Mother, Dorthea Lange

We discussed that an interesting comparison might be made among the intermediate periods, sometimes called Dark Ages, and the medieval “Dark Ages” or even the Great Depression that followed the stock market crash in 1929 in the United States.  Maybe a comparison with the current “economic crisis” could be made that people could relate to.  Both my professor and I had an interesting take on the Great Depression, as we heard from our grandparents who lived through it.  Her family was in rural Texas during the depression; she heard several times from her family that it was “just like the grapes of wrath.”  How much did popular culture and hindsight play in the creating of the public memory?  Was it really so bad??  My grandfather remembers the Depressionas a child in the suburbs of Boston.  He told me that the one thing that sticks out in his memory is the question asked whenever friends were met on the street: “Are you working?”  This is a personal memory, of course, so it is not so questionable as a memory placed there by popular culture… but even in the time of the Great Depression, pictures, such as the one to the right, were staged and published!  What effect did this have on the people who were experiencing the Depression head on?  I realize this is a long tangent, but can it not be related to the Egyptians?  Were they experiencing many of the same things?

This is the mummy of Seti I - how real does he look? Don't you know someone who could look like this today?

My professor also told me a story about a time when she was excavating in Egypt.  She excavated an entire road in a village; once she was finished, she was the first person to walk that road in thousands of years.  How powerful is that??  Can’t that feeling be conveyed (to an extent) to people at an exhibit?

Of course, there is always the gross stuff that you think of that sticks with you… diseases and violence.  At one site she excavated, a mummy’s foot stuck out of the ground, and workers kept tripping over it.  Once they removed it from the ground, the archaeologists discovered that the knee was still attached, and it creaked and made a noise much like anyone’s might.   How can this be presented to people, without totally freaking them out/being accepted.  These were real people!

See? I was so amazed I took a picture of his toes.

One thing that personally always stuck with me, as I visited the McClung Museum at the University of Tennessee, is the presentation of mummies.  Of course, this is becoming controversial (a la NAGPRA to an extent), so it gets a bit tricky as well… However, whenever my friend and I would go to see Gilbert (as we named him) at the museum, I always noticed that you could see his toenails sticking out of the end of his wrappings.  His toenails!!  See it over there??  Again, I made the connection that he was once a person, but do others??  Do we present the Egyptians or ancients in this way?

Battlefields in America often focus on the logistics and the outcomes of a certain battle in relation to the bigger picture… but there are always some aspects of human elements as well.  Cannonballs stuck in trees or in houses show the impact that the war had on people.  On a visit to Chickamauga as an undergraduate, I remember a display that was basically text on the wall that had been taken from a soldier’s diary which spoke of the atrocities and realities of war (such as eyeballs hanging out of sockets and field surgeries).  Again, this is gross, but it definitely stuck with me and made me realize, “oh, there were actually thousands of people who died here and even more who were affected.”

Impressive, certainly. But can you make a personal connection?

Surely there are innumerable more ways to link the ancients with the present (and surely less grotesque ways as well).  The more I think about it the more convinced I become that this is something that needs to be addressed!  Where is the human elements in many of the ancient-related exhibits today??  Can’t we relate better to something if we understand it in a context related to our own world-view?

Additionally, there is a TON of room in Egypt itself for public history.  There is still a very colonial point of view in the country, and of course there are tons of political and religious things that play into the presentation of antiquities.  It’s really complicated; however, there is still a need for some sort representation.  Bottom line: there is a place, and possibly even a need, within the Ancient History field for public historians.

Please feel free to offer comments on any exhibits related to ancient cultures that you have visited.  What could be improved?  Did you feel any connection to the actual people, or just an awe of their feats and elite class (or nothing at all)?  I’m looking at you, former classmates and professors at the University of Memphis!!!