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Museums Working with Communities: The Book

October 17, 2016

positioning-museums-coverI am pleased to announce that my colleague Beth Bollwerk and I have a new book that will be available in the coming weeks –  Positioning Your Museum as a Critical Community Asset: A Practical Guide, published by Rowman and Littlefield Press.  You can pre-order a copy at a 30% discount by using the promotional code RLFANDF30.  The extensive Resource Guide of the book is available now online (and at no cost).

So why is this book different from other titles on how museums strive to be engaged with the communities they serve? Our new book is explicitly a “how to guide” for museums to integrate themselves into their communities.  Positioning Your Museum as a Critical Community Asset: A Practical Guide, is not meant to convince the reader of the need for that integration. We consider that need a settled matter.  We envision this book within the framework of museums co-creating with their communities. We do not envision this co-creation as museums simply being more attuned to community needs. Co-creation means making a commitment to working with a community to address those needs.

We consider this volume as the instruction manual for our previously edited volumes that discussed the concept of co-creation for cultural heritage professionals and museums. In 2012 we published Open(ing) Authority Through Community Engagement, that provided a theoretical overview and ten case studies on co-creation with museums and their communities. In 2015, we published Co-creation in the Archaeological Record that brought the discussion squarely to fieldwork, curation, and interpretation in the discipline of archaeology along with another set of case studies.

In our application of co-creation we prioritize acting on the public’s expressed needs and interests.  To simplify that process we rely on Dana’s mandate in The New Museum written one century ago – “Learn what aid the community needs: fit the museum to those needs”   Our new volume fills the methodological and logistical gap in acting on Dana’s mandate. For example, our experience over the past several years demonstrates that for many museums, particularly smaller ones, the ability to carry out a community oral history project that can be curated online with universal access, or creating a new low-cost exhibit based on important community curated collections are often not considered possible because of finances, staffing, or other constraints. At the same time, over that same time period, we have encountered dozens of projects that overcame these obstacles and implemented such community-driven engagement work.

Drawing on that experience, this volume does not discuss the relevance or need for museums to engage with their communities. Instead, our contributors introduce specific themes of engagement, supported by applied case studies. The volume themes and case studies are particularly relevant to small and medium-sized cultural heritage venues with a limited or even no full-time staff. Our contributors to this book were also certain their “how to” projects could be completed for $1500.00 or less to assure that cost was not a prohibitive factor.

Positioning Your Museum as a Critical Community Asset: A Practical Guide is organized into six sections. Each section begins with a thematic discussion relevant to a museum’s engagement with the community they serve. Each thematic discussion is followed by four or five case study applications.   The Table of Contents listed below shows the diversity of case studies presented that range from rural Peru to the urban Upper Midwest of the United States.  The final section of the book links to an extensive online Resource Guide that will be regularly updated.  We were selective about the links included in the Resource Guide.  We chose not to include so many entries such that the reader could not tell the forest for the trees.  Instead we carefully selected those resources of particular relevance to small and medium-sized cultural heritage venues aligned with the focus of our volume’s contributors.

Positioning Your Museum as a Critical Community Asset: A Practical Guide is a book that demonstrates any museum, regardless of size, staffing, or financial resources, can engage with their communities in a vibrant and co-creative way. We truly believe that when museums and communities co-create together those cultural heritage venues will serve as valuable community partners that must be preserved and maintained.

Order your copy today at the 30% off with the discount code RLFANDF30.



Positioning Your Museum as a Critical Community Asset: A Practical Guide

Table of Contents

Introduction- Robert P. Connolly and Elizabeth A. Bollwerk

Part 1 – Communities Making Meaning in Museum Education – Jody Stokes Casey

Case Studies

  1. Developing High School Curriculum: The C.H. Nash Museum and Freedom Prep Charter School Project – Nur Abdalla and Lyndsey Pender
  2. Creating a Museum in a School: Cultural Heritage in Nivín, Perú– Gustavo Valencia Tello and Elizabeth Cruzado
  3. Meeting Teacher Needs: Digital Collections in the Classroom – Shana Crosson
  4. Using Postcard Collections as a Primary Resource in the Classroom – Brian Failing
  5. Words, Stone, Earth, and Paint: Using Creative Writing to Engage a Community with Its Museum – Mary Anna Evans

Part 2 – The Value of Open(ing) Authority and Participatory Frameworks for Museums – Elizabeth A. Bollwerk

Case Studies

  1. Oral History For, About, and By a Local Community: Co-Creation in the Peruvian Highlands – Elizabeth Cruzado and Leodan Alejo Valerio
  2. Working with a Private Collector to Strengthen Women’s History: Sewall-Belmont House & Museum – Rebecca Price.
  3. Reconnecting a University Museum Collection with Hopi Farmers through an Undergraduate Class– Lisa Young and Susan Sekaquaptewa
  4. Our Stories, Our Places: Centering the Community as Narrative Voice in the Reinterpretation of an African American Historic Site – Porchia Moore

Part 3 – Advocacy for Heritage Professionals During the Crisis and the Calm – Sarah E. Miller

Case Studies

  1. Making Advocacy Everyone’s Priority – Ember Farber
  2. Impact Statements – Demonstrating a Museum’s Public Value – Robert P. Connolly
  3. Small Fish, Big Pond: How to Effectively Advocate in Your Community – Melissa Prycer

Part 4 – Museums Engaging With People As A Community Resource – Robert P. Connolly

Case Studies

  1. Taking Steps to Make a Museum Special Needs Friendly – Colleen McCartney
  2. Incorporating Descendent Community Voices: The Whitney Plantation – Ashley Rogers
  3. How Community Input Can Shape a Mission: The Proposed Eggleston Museum – Allison Hennie
  4. Building a Community History at the University of the West Indies Museum – Suzanne Francis-Brown
  5. Telling Our Town’s History: The Muscatine History and Industry Center – Mary Wildermuth
  6. Working to Address Community Needs: The Missouri History Museum – Melanie Adams

Part 5 – Engaging User Audiences in the Digital Landscape – Brigitte Billeaudeaux and Jennifer Schnabel

Case Studies

  1. Creating a Digital Library for Community Access: A. Schwab on Beale Street – Brigitte Billeaudeaux
  2. Separating the Glitz from the Practical in Social Media at the National Underground Railroad Museum – Jamie Glavic and Assia Johnson
  3. How a Simple, Inexpensive Podcast Engaged an Entire Community: Chick History, Inc – Rebecca Price
  4. Recording the Neglected Sports Stories From the Backside – Holly Solis
  5. Small Museum Website Creation with a Limited Staff and Budget: The Arden Craft Shop Museum – Kelsey Ransick

Part 6 – Resource Guide

Bob Dylan Wins Nobel Prize

October 14, 2016

img_0894So Bob Dylan wins the Nobel Prize to which he says . . . well he was doing a concert in Las Vegas last night and has yet to comment.  You can read the tweets from all the elated and aghast literati, most of whom I have never heard of, never read anything by, which I guess says a lot about my qualifications to weigh in on the Nobel Prize for Literature . . . but damn, this just could not be any better.

I have seen Dylan in concert a few times.  I have never gotten the folks who do this autobio interpretive stuff on Dylan . . . like the commentator on the Yupyup podcast I used to listen to who went on about how the Tempest album chronicled the latest in Dylan’s failed relationships with women, or folks who railed against his Shadows in the Night album – but I heard him sing Autumn Leaves live and it blew me away.

One of the times I saw him was at the 2003 Jubilee Jam festival in Jackson Mississippi.  It was an open stage and I got there about one hour before Dylan was set to go on to get a good spot front and center.  I am not a crowd person.  So a couple of minutes before show time and the folks are doing sound checks and things, and the crowd behind me is pushing forward and I am getting claustrophobic, but Dylan finally comes out and leads off with Maggie’s Farm and damn that was good.  And there are all of these 20-somethings with their cell phones recording stuff and yelling . . . I got a bit stressed, finished listening to the song, and then elbowed my way to the back of the crowd for the rest of the set.

But here is really the most exciting part of that concert.  Charles Evers, brother of slain Civil Rights leader Medgar Evers was at Jubilee Jam.   Dylan’s song Only a Pawn in Their Game is about the assassination of Medgar Evers. Donna Ladd, editor of the Jackson Free Press, tried to orchestrate a meeting with Dylan, that seemed like it was not going to happen, but then as Donna Ladd tells the story . . .

When they let us through the fence, the scene suddenly became quiet and reverent with everyone seemingly scared to blink. I stopped next to Malcolm and Holly. Then Bob Dylan appeared wearing his white cowboy hat. He warmly grasped Mr. Evers’ hand and held it for a good five minutes while they talked eye-to-eye, heart-to-heart, man-to-man. They both nodded a lot and seemed emotional. I didn’t try to get closer. This was between two giants of the Civil Rights Movement, and the man they—we—had lost to hatred. I blinked back tears.

Suddenly, Mr. Evers turned around and took my arm, pulling me forward. Mr. Dylan slowly turned his gaze to my face and reached for my hand. I shook it, just looking into his eyes, as Mr. Evers told him who I was, that I had a newspaper and that we’re trying to bridge racial gaps and do good things in Jackson. My heart was in my toes. “I’m honored to meet you” is all I said.

Now that is a magical moment!

At any rate, for everyone who is just so bummed that Dylan got the Nobel for literature, there is Mr. Tambourine Man to show why.  When I was a Freshman at Purcell High School, Brother Glassmayer (a Marianist dude, it was a Catholic school) proclaimed during homeroom when listening to the line “smoke rings of my mind” proclaiming “yes it is about marijuana” with all the conviction his authority as a homeroom teacher could muster.

This, dare I say poem, has the lines:

Yes, to dance beneath the diamond sky with one hand waving free
Silhouetted by the sea, circled by the circus sands
With all memory and fate driven deep beneath the waves
Let me forget about today until tomorrow

Which I rank right up there with W.S. Merwin’s The Wave or Ferlinghetti’s Moscow in the Wilderness, Segovia in the Snow (which I have as a signed broadside no less) . . . but they haven’t won a Nobel Prize for Lit either.

Which reminds me, I started out as an English Lit major, so maybe I do have some creds there – but I could only muster an 0.7 GPA back then, so maybe not.

I heard Judy Collins talk about how she was at a house in New York when she heard Dylan singing from a closed bedroom early in the morning, and she sat outside the door and listened to him compose Mr. Tambourine Man.  Now that would have been a blast.

So, don’t hum Mr. Tambourine Man or think of Dylan or the Byrds singing the song, but just read this or speak these words below . . . it works for me  . . .

Mr. Tambourine Man

by Bob Dylan

Hey! Mr. Tambourine Man, play a song for me
I’m not sleepy and there is no place I’m going to
Hey! Mr. Tambourine Man, play a song for me
In the jingle jangle morning I’ll come followin’ you

Though I know that evenin’s empire has returned into sand
Vanished from my hand
Left me blindly here to stand but still not sleeping
My weariness amazes me, I’m branded on my feet
I have no one to meet
And the ancient empty street’s too dead for dreaming

Hey! Mr. Tambourine Man, play a song for me
I’m not sleepy and there is no place I’m going to
Hey! Mr. Tambourine Man, play a song for me
In the jingle jangle morning I’ll come followin’ you

Take me on a trip upon your magic swirlin’ ship
My senses have been stripped, my hands can’t feel to grip
My toes too numb to step
Wait only for my boot heels to be wanderin’
I’m ready to go anywhere, I’m ready for to fade
Into my own parade, cast your dancing spell my way
I promise to go under it

Hey! Mr. Tambourine Man, play a song for me
I’m not sleepy and there is no place I’m going to
Hey! Mr. Tambourine Man, play a song for me
In the jingle jangle morning I’ll come followin’ you

Though you might hear laughin’, spinnin’, swingin’ madly across the sun
It’s not aimed at anyone, it’s just escapin’ on the run
And but for the sky there are no fences facin’
And if you hear vague traces of skippin’ reels of rhyme
To your tambourine in time, it’s just a ragged clown behind
I wouldn’t pay it any mind
It’s just a shadow you’re seein’ that he’s chasing

Hey! Mr. Tambourine Man, play a song for me
I’m not sleepy and there is no place I’m going to
Hey! Mr. Tambourine Man, play a song for me
In the jingle jangle morning I’ll come followin’ you

Then take me disappearin’ through the smoke rings of my mind
Down the foggy ruins of time, far past the frozen leaves
The haunted, frightened trees, out to the windy beach
Far from the twisted reach of crazy sorrow
Yes, to dance beneath the diamond sky with one hand waving free
Silhouetted by the sea, circled by the circus sands
With all memory and fate driven deep beneath the waves
Let me forget about today until tomorrow

Hey! Mr. Tambourine Man, play a song for me
I’m not sleepy and there is no place I’m going to
Hey! Mr. Tambourine Man, play a song for me
In the jingle jangle morning I’ll come followin’ you

The End of College – It Gets Better!

October 10, 2016
MOOC, cocreate

Two elementary school students record Munsell colors on ceramic vessels in Nivin, Peru.

Debbie Morrison’s review of the End Of College by Kevin Carey convinced me to read the book.  I am glad I did.  Carey’s basic thesis is that traditional higher education, particularly for undergraduates, is not working well today and is in need of restructuring.  Carey uses the MITx MOOC Introduction to Biology: The Secret of Life taught by Professor Eric Lander as a framework to explore and pose solutions on what that restructured undergraduate model might look like.

Critique of Critiques

As Debbie notes in her review, much of the criticism of The End of College misses the point of the book.  I wholeheartedly agree.  For example, when I first read John Seery’s review in the Huffington Post I wondered if I should read the book.  However, reading The End of College revealed Seery’s review to be more of a defense of his past, present, and future vision at Pomona College where he has taught for the past 25 years.  In fact, I had some question if we even read the same book, waiting for the evidence of the damning indictments Seery made of Carey’s book.  Seery concludes his review with “The End of College is an embarrassment. And it’s not because Kevin Carey lacks a PhD” I find Seery’s review an embarrassment that he can find no value or validity in Carey’s critique of undergraduate education.

Though less inflammatory than Seery, the review of the book by Audrey Watters and Sarah Boldrick-Rab in Inside Higher Education similarly does not acknowledge any problem in higher education or propose an alternative to Carey’s analysis.  The general tone of the noted reviews reminds me of folks like Arthur Keen in his Cult of the Amateur or the more simplistic “the sky is falling” arguments against MOOCs of a few years ago.  The reviewers do a disservice to their own arguments by presenting critiques at odds with the facts.

What is the book about?

Debbie’s review does a great job in reviewing the content of the End of College.  Carey contextualizes his proposals within the historic development of higher education and hybrid (joint research and undergraduate) institutions. Of particular value is the discussion of engaging more digital technology in restructuring undergraduate curricula.

The Illusion of MOOC’s Declining Numbers

The above critiques and those noted in Debbie’s review point to the alleged failure of MOOCs as an educational tool.  As Seery notes in his review “The MOOC run-up has already run its course.”

  • Yet in the most recent issue of LAS News (Fall 2016) I received in the mail this week from my alma mater, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC), I read “Illinois Education is becoming more accessible thanks to new offerings via massively open online courses . . . These include the Department of Statistics, a partner in Illinois’ new Masters of Computer Science in Data Science degree offered through online education company Coursera.  And Cary Nelson, Jubilee Professor of Liberal Arts & Sciences and emeritus professor of English is teaching the campus’ first lecture-based MOOC in American Poetry on Coursera.”
  • A review of the catalog shows that at UIUC alone over 50 instructors ( from Lecturers to Full Professors) are offering 70 MOOC courses in 2016 Fall semester.
  • The MOOC aggregator Class Central notes that the “total number of students who signed up for at least one MOOC course has crossed 35 million—up from an estimated 16-18 million last year.”

A review of available resources demonstrates that MOOCs have in fact not already run their course.  Seemingly, major universities throughout the world are jumping more on the MOOC bandwagon as Carey notes.

The Illusion of MOOCs as a Failure

Critics allege MOOCs are failures for a host of reasons.

  • The completion rate for most courses is reasonably low – I am not certain how completion rate equates to success or failure.  I have started perhaps 20 MOOCs over the past few years and completed 25% of them. (I have a much smaller completion rate for films I start to watch on Netflix, but the streaming video business seems to be thriving.)  Have MOOCs failed me or vice versa?  I think not.  When filling in a MOOC course registration survey, one is typically asked if they plan to complete the readings, quizzes and so forth.  As a well-trained student and believer that I must finish whatever I start, in the past I always checked the ‘plan to complete everything’ box and was disappointed if I didn’t.  Then I had an interesting experience about one year ago.  I registered for a course only because I wanted to listen to the lectures from one week of the six-week course – I had no intention of finishing the course, or completing any of the assignments.  I am more mindful when completing these surveys today.  Now I view registering for MOOCs similar to checking out a book in the bookstore.  Most books that I pick up, I don’t end up buying or reading.  I review the table of contents, read the Intro (often on-line) and then I will commit or not to the entire book.  As Carey (p.154) notes, if only 2% of the world took one MOOC course annually at $74.00 that small enrollment will create 10 billion dollars in revenue.
  • Critics argue that the primary users of MOOCs are male with advanced degrees – or perhaps that is the demographic filling out the evaluation surveys on same since the data are largely based on enrollee responses to surveys – that might be an interesting study in itself.  Yet the table below (Table 2 of linked article)  suggests that the greatest number of folks completing the courses are actually high school students!  Debbie Morrison posted a while ago an interesting piece on the role MOOCs can play in high school student decision-making on future careers.
Course Auditing Completing Disengaging Sampling
High school 6% 27% 29% 39%
Undergraduate 6% 8% 12% 74%
Graduate 9% 5% 6% 80%

MOOCs as a Supplement to Higher Education Offerings

A few years ago I posted a blog about the writing deficiency of many of my graduate student advisees.  I found that MOOC and other free-on line offerings of value to my students to obtain training in writing and other areas not available in their degree programs.

For example, a student with a career focus in cultural heritage administration was able to supplement her regular course-work with Build Essential Skills for the Workplace a ten-course specialization from taught by faculty from the University of California at Irvine.  The cost for the approximately 60 hours of course instruction and capstone project was $323.00 with credentials (or at no cost to audit).  Of importance, when I asked the student after completing the specialization “Was it worth it?  Did you get anything out of it you could not have gotten from your degree coursework?” they responded with an emphatic yes.

This semester a student dramatically improved their weak writing skills through a free English composition course I recommended at

In both of the above examples, the MOOCs provided offerings that were not available in the students formal coursework, they found the MOOCs of value, and they demonstrated increased skills as a result of the MOOC.  How is this not a good thing?

Takeaways from the End of College

Kevin Carey’s book, in a reasoned, linear, and well-organized approach and addresses several of the challenges facing higher education today.  Contrary to what his more adamant critics allege, I don’t think Carey believes he has received a mountain top divine revelation on this subject.  Rather, he provides a sober assessment, contextualized within an historic perspective, of the state of undergraduate education today.  MOOCs may very well be the Friendster of higher education replaced in the near future by a more effective tool.  I don’t think Mr. Carey will take issue with that point either.  However what Carey clearly lays out, and I completely concur, is that undergraduate education does not work well today.  Although some academicians present reasoned discussion on this issue, such as Michael Roth, President of Wesleyan College in his review of Carey’s book, there appears an overall polarization on MOOCs, like much else in the US today.

I often remark that if academicians think that they can just hold their collective breath and wait for things to go back to the “good old days” of funding, they will all die of asphyxiation and higher education as we know it will go the way of Kodak and daily newspapers.  Discussions of the real problems and viable solutions need to be put forward, particularly for undergraduate education.  It is just plain silly to rant about the low completion rates for MOOCs yet not address the similar decline in completion rates for Undergraduate degrees at bricks and mortar institutions.

I leave with:

Coursera currently hosts 1259 free courses on an incredible diversity of subjects taught by faculty at accredited university’s across the globe.  How is that not a good thing?

In my former academic department, the required graduate seminar on Research Design is taught once every two years.  Students often need portions of the coursework sooner to conduct their graduate research projects.  Coursera offers a Questionnaire Design for Social Surveys course by  Frederick Conrad, Ph.D., Research Professor, Survey Methodology at the University of Michigan.  Students can audit the course for free or register for $69.00.  Or they can register for the entire seven-course Survey Data Collection and Analytics Specialization, audit for free or register for 423.00.  How is having this option available as a supplement to their formal coursework not a good thing?

Finally, how does this relate to Archaeology, Museums, and Outreach?  Stay tuned.

A Thanks to All As I Start a New Adventure

August 28, 2016

Mr. Robert Gurley’s opening comments at my retirement event.

This past Thursday I finished cleaning out my office, had my official retirement party, turned in my keys to the Museum, left Memphis and arrived six hours later at our new home in New Orleans – after nine years as the Director of the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa and an Associate Professor in the Departments of Anthropology and Earth Sciences at the University of Memphis.  I have blogged before about the new opportunities I have in my “retirement” years.

The retirement event this past Thursday was chaired by Mr. Robert Gurley, the former President of the Westwood Neighborhood Association.  In his opening comments, Mr. Gurley reviewed the Museum’s relationship with the community over the past 9 years as we moved to become a true social asset.  I have blogged about this issue a lot over the years.  Reverend George Royal presented me with a plaque that recognized that relationship.


Reverend George Royal presenting plaque.

Ron Brister talked about Chucalissa’s direction over the past decade and was extremely gracious regarding my role in that process.  I was surprised and very pleased that Ron presented me with a sediment peel of a postmold from Chucalissa’s excavation trench.  The sediment peels exhibited in the new Brister Archaeology Discovery Lab (BAD Lab) were Ron’s idea and are a highlight for visitors since the renovated lab opened this past spring.

The staff of Chucalissa presented me with a set of excavation  trench photos taken by Katie Maish.  Full-sized version of those images are also on display in the BAD Lab.  The total lab project was the result of the skills and commitments of individuals from several organizations.

I knew that my friend, colleague and former student, Elizabeth Cruzado Carranza could not attend the event because of her PhD program classes at LSU in Baton Rouge.  But I was very surprised when the announced “special presentation” (takes a minute to load so be patient) was a video that highlights our collaborative work in Peru.

My colleague Andrew Mickelson spoke about our relationship with roots going back to archaeological careers in Ohio.  Andrew noted the question I was asked by Dr. Barry Isaac at my M.A. Thesis defense a bunch of years ago, that I continue to ask students today – “Why is your research more important than eating a plate of worms?”  In recognition, Andrew presented me with his drawing of a plate of worms.


Ron Brister presenting sediment peel post mold from excavation trench.

Ruthbeth Finerman and representatives of the Friends of T.O. Fuller State Park also made presentations.

In my comments, I noted that the past nine years were the most meaningful and enjoyable of my entire career – without question.  I owed that in large part to the support the Museum received and continues to receive from its governing authority, the University of Memphis.  As well, our current staff, lead maintenance mechanic John Chando (2010 University of Memphis Employee of the Year); Emily Neal, Administrative Assistant; Melissa Buchner Administrative Associate; and Ron Brister, Collections Manager are each absolutely integral to any success achieved at the C.H. Nash Museum.

I then turned to the aspect of my employment that I found the most meaningful and fulfilling over the years.  During my first archaeological field school in 1986, the late Dr. Patricia Essenpreis told the assembled students something very close to “If you cannot explain to the taxpayer why they should support these excavations and this museum then you might as well go home.”  That mandate remained firmly planted in my brain ever since.  In the past decade at Chucalissa, I was able to act on that mandate – in two primary areas.


Andrew Mickelson’s “A Plate of Worms”

First, I had the opportunity to mentor students who came through our museum as both graduate assistants and interns.  They are truly the backbone of our operation.  As I often note to visitors “If you see anything here that is shiny and new, chances are a graduate assistant, intern, or volunteer created the product.”  In fact, the vast majority of exhibit upgrades and new programs over the past decade were created by Chucalissa Graduate Assistants, Museum Studies students and interns, or our AmeriCorps NCCC Teams.

Second, in our community outreach work over the past nine years, we were best able to respond to Pat’s mandate.  In my comments on Thursday, I offered my thanks to all attendees from the neighborhood who trusted in our Museum to truly co-create with the community in addressing their expressed needs, and not what we thought their needs should be.  Co-creation and community relevance were the most consistent themes of this blog over the years.  I cannot find adequate words to express my gratitude to the citizens and civic leaders of Southwest Memphis for providing these lessons to all who have been a part of this process.  The best I can do is to carry what I have learned from this relationship into my future projects both in the U.S. and abroad.


Emily Neal, Chucalissa Administrative Assistant

Career success is often gauged by articles published, accolades obtained, professional positions held, and other forms of recognition.  I have been blessed with all of those markers in abundance over the last nine years.  Success is also gauged by considering if one leaves the place in a better condition than when they came.  Here, I would like to reverse that equation.  Although I believe that I have left the place in a better condition than when I came, I owe that better condition to the education and lessons I received from my students and the community that our museum serves.  Simply, because of the lessons I learned from the Westwood community, students, and staff, I believe that I too am leaving in a better condition than when I arrived in 2007.  The reciprocal nature of relationships at Chucalissa has been a very memorable part of my tenure.  Thanks to all for providing and sharing this wonderful gift.


Recently graduated Graduate Assistants (l-r) Colleen McCartney, Nur Abdalla, Brooke Garcia. Missing is Eli Cruzado, now a PhD student at LSU, Baton Rouge.

An Often Forgotten Practice in Career Development

August 15, 2016

ProfessionalismWhat does it take to have your application stand out from all others when applying for a job, grant, or scholarship? I focused on that question with my graduate student advisees this past spring as they planned for their May graduations and the job application process.  I have posted before on this subject.  I  always recommend two references for building a career in the cultural heritage sector – A Life in Museums: Managing Your Museum Career and The Anthropology Graduate’s Guide: From Student to a Career.  Both books are packed with information that students need to begin acting on early in their academic career.

I offer students suggestions as someone who has hired museum staff, sat on numerous admission, scholarship and similar recruitment committees, and written hundreds of letters of recommendations over the years.  An applicants goal in these processes is for their application to stand out and make the first cut from the other hundred (or hundreds) submitted and then receive more detailed scrutiny from the review committee.  The added attention allows the reviewers to determine the candidates fit for a position leading to the possibility of making it to the short list or interview stage where the applicant can truly shine and detail their fit for the position.  The two references listed above detail many other practices to enhance an applicants possibilities to have their application package rise to the top.

My colleague Bob Beatty at the AASLH reminded me today of another important practice that seems to be falling out of favor these days – the thank you note – not the perfunctory single word of emailed “thanks” which really is nothing more than an acknowledgement of a task completed – but something that requires a bit more effort and expression.  Bob provided the link How To Write a Heartfelt Thank-You Note, Quickly & Easily by Raphael Magana.  From my perspective, a thank you note or update to an advisor or recommendation letter writer is not to have one’s ego appeased.  Rather a thank you note or progress update addresses the following points:

  • Thank you notes and updates set a tone for future discussions.  Everyone typically receives and dislikes the emails or voice messages from folks who only call in time of need.  The same is true for the former professor or employer who only hears from someone when they need another letter of reference, or six.
  • Thank you notes and updates are just a civil part of social relations, showing an appreciation for the effort expended.  In a survey I conducted a few years ago, not giving thanks was third on the list of “rules of professionalism” routinely violated by recent college graduates.  Similarly, a lack of communication is the reason given by over 50% of donors as to why they stopped their financial support to a nonprofit.
  • A thank you note also serves as a mnemonic device to keep the individual’s name and face in front of the faculty member or potential employer.
  • Generally, I find that the students who write thank you notes or send updates are the students who function in a professional manner in other respects and with whom I have the most meaningful conversations on their professional development.
  • And the point I consider most important, a thank you note or progress update simply let’s the advisor know that the conversations, advising sessions, etc. are considered of value by the recipient.  And I repeat, thank you notes must not be viewed as an ego inflation for the person being thanked.  Rather, the amount of time expended in advising, writing letters of recommendation and introduction can consume a considerable amount of faculty member or employer’s time.  Was it worthwhile?  Then let them know. They will be more likely to assist both you and others in the future.

For all the above reasons, like having a digital portfolio, a well-crafted cover letter, and a professional appearance, the thank you note or update, though seemingly a small detail, can make a big difference for those launching their careers, and beyond.  And I thank Bob Beatty for reminding me of this important practice.


The Space of Memory, Tolerance, and Social Inclusion – Lima, Peru

August 2, 2016

LUMFor this post, I start by noting that I am not Peruvian and I have no desire to mess in that sovereign nation’s affairs.  I write from the perspective of a cultural heritage professional. This is my review of El Lugar de la Memoria, la Tolerancia y la Inclusión Social (The Space of Memory, Tolerance and Social Inclusion), located in Lima, Peru.


The role of jailed former Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori plays prominently in The Space interpretation of events.

The Space serves as a museum, cultural center, place of reconciliation and reflection on the Shining Path’s reign of terror in Peru from the 1980s through 2000.  Here are some of my takeaways:

  • The presentation is impressive throughout the three floors of The Space.  The story is told principally through panel text and image displays along with a substantive but not overwhelming distribution of video stations.  My three-hour visit allowed a sufficient amount of time to view and absorb most of the exhibits.  My Spanish is good enough to understand all that I was reading.  I assumed, as always, that a museum has its own point of view that excludes other perspectives.  However, when I asked my Peruvian hosts about the potential bias, they believed the presentation was representative of multiple perspectives.  In fact, the very creation of the museum was eclipsed by several years of controversy to maximize inclusion.
  • The Space contains many of the hallmarks of other “museum of conscious” type of venues such as the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington D.C.  For example, visitors pick up small booklets that contain information about the lives of those assassinated or disappeared over the twenty-year period.  A memory board allows visitors to comment directly about specific individuals or the relatives of the disappeared.  Large flat screen displays feature the oral histories of individuals impacted by the Shining Path activities.  The second floor leads to a spacious reflection area.  The third floor includes a gallery of contemporary artwork on the period along with walls of mementos brought by families of the disappeared.
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    Mementos from the Disappeared.

    A departure from similar museums I have visited is a free admission to The Space, making the venue accessible to anyone who is able to get to Lima.  I was struck as well that although the museum very effectively tells the story of Shining Path, contextualized within the poverty and oppression of rural Peru, quite clearly, the focus of the venue is as a place of reflection and reconciliation for Peruvians.


Memory Board

I found the experience of visiting the museum quite humbling.  I learned another part of the story of the rural Quechua village where I spend a portion of my summers of late.  I had always known that the community was founded in part based on attempts to escape the Shining Path war, but The Space helped me to better understand and appreciate the lives of my Peruvian friends in both the Andes and Lima.

If in Lima, The Space of Memory, Tolerance, and Social Inclusion is definitely worth the visit for both the story and method of the telling.


Cultural Heritage and the R Word

July 26, 2016
Two generations exploring the Muscatine city map at the Pearl Button Museum

Two generations exploring the Muscatine city map at the Pearl Button Museum

In the face of funding cutbacks, a cultural heritage institution buzzword of late is being “relevant” to the public.  Nina Simon has a new book out on this very topic. Quite often we view relevance from the perspective of getting folks in the door or demonstrating to public officials or other funders why an economic institution should maintain their cut of the economic pie. The short-term flurry of activity after the Florida Governor’s attacks on anthropology or reaction to the various “Digger” shows that have now been cancelled are problematic. Bluntly, our field seems stymied by a focus on self-interest – we tend not to get excited until our own little corner of the universe is attacked, despite our mission to act as public stewards, educators, and servants. I recollect the Art History graduate student in my Museum Practices seminar several years ago who calmly and confidently stated “Art Historians are not interested in what the public thinks.”

I have a dream, nowhere near as lofty as that of MLK Jr., but, my dream is that when cultural heritage funding or other resources are on the chopping block, it is not the professionals who immediately respond in protest, but rather the response comes from the public whose cultural heritage resources are being threatened. I dream that the citizenry would respond to such cuts with “We demand that you provide the professionals who work in our publicly funded institutions that preserve our cultural heritage adequate resources to do the job that our tax dollars are intended for them to do.”

To bring about this dream necessitates not a magical conjuring up of public forces to do the bidding for the professionals. Rather, I believe this dream can be fulfilled as a logical consequence of cultural heritage institutions engaging and sustaining long-term relationships with the public we serve. Or as John Cotton Dana noted 99 years ago “Learn what aid the community needs: fit the museum to those needs” (The New Museum, 1917:38).

What I think that all comes down to is demonstrating relevance to the communities that we serve.  Several years ago I posed the following question to my Museum Practices Graduate Seminar as a final exam question:

Put yourself in the position of John or Josephine Q. Public. In the current economic chaos, the bank is foreclosing on their home, they have lost their jobs, and the city just reduced their public services. In referring to the National Endowment for the Arts and the Institute of Museum and Library Services, the House Budget Committee recently argued that “The activities and content funded by these agencies…are generally enjoyed by people of higher income levels, making them a wealth transfer from poorer to wealthier citizens.” Isn’t your research or the position you aspire to as a museum professional just another example of this wealth transfer? What do John and Josephine Q. Public get for their tax dollars that fund your research/position?

I have posted some of the responses on this blog.  I like this question so much that I now use it as one of the final exam questions for all course I teach and as a question on all graduate comprehensive exam committees on which I serve.

This is a question is relevant because it directly leads to addressing Dana’s mandate of a century ago.  Over the years, I have grilled students to go beyond vague sentiments of cultural preservation, we don’t know anything about this cultural period occupation in this particular region, to further scientific knowledge, and all the plethora of similar answers when responding to this exam question.  Direct responses that directly engage public requests are what I find so relevant as in the Florida Public Archaeology Networks cemetery reclamation program or my colleague Elizabeth Cruzado Carranza’s work in Nivín, Peru that is a poster child for co-creation based on the specific community expressed needs to which she is directly responding.

Hmm . . . this post seems like a rehash of many similar entries I have written over the years on the R word, here, here, here, here, etc.  But once again, this issue raises it’s head.

How is your institution/project relevant to expressed needs of the community that you serve?


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