In Defense of Wikipedia as a Research Tool

At the end of my graduate seminar this past semester, I suggested that while I did not as a whole consider Wikipedia a “scholarly” resource for citations today, it was certainly a good starting point to search out relevant references.  I proposed that five years from now, the next iteration of Wikipedia might prove to be a legitimate scholarly resource, citable in papers in the same way survey textbooks are today.

That class discussion prompted me to pull a book that had sat in my “to read” stack for the past couple of years – The Cult of the Amateur by Andrew Keen.  His thesis is that Wikipedia, YouTube, etc. are the breeding grounds for amateurs to spread their misinformation, contrasted to the high standards of traditional professional journalism and scholarship.  I hoped the book would give an alternative to my classroom advocacy of such online venues as tools for engagement and dissemination of information. I read the Introduction and Chapter 1 and was greatly disappointed.  When I got to page 48 and read Keen’s rant against the “citizen journalist” reports from Hurricane Katrina in 2005, I realized he writes from an elitist and Luddite perspective.

My interest in this discussion is from the perspective of whether such online resources are at least starting points for valid and reliable research information.    This week my Applied Archaeology and Museums class, will discuss plans for their first class project.  Students will prepare written papers on repatriation of the Elgin Marbles.  We will then have an in-class debate on the pros and cons of the Elgin Marbles repatriation.  I looked at the Wikipedia page for the Elgin Marbles.  After spending 15 minutes clicking through the various links on the page, I realized it would simply be stupid of me not to point students toward this as a first resource for the class project.  Check out the page.  I think you will agree.  The page simply is not the idiocy Mr. Keen rants against.

In a recent blog post Jennifer Carey links to a list of 15 resources for free scholarly information.  I was particularly intrigued by the Wikimedia Foundation’s project Wikiversity that is “devoted to learning resources, learning projects, and research for use in all types and styles of education from pre-school to university, including professional training and informal learning.  We invite teachers, students, and researchers to join us in creating open educational resources and collaborative learning communities.”   Sounds exactly like the nightmare Mr. Keen wrote about.

Here is what I learned about Wikiversity in 15 minutes of clicking.  Wikiversity has some well-developed modules, principally in the hard sciences. I am preparing for a special course this coming fall flowing from Jane McGonigal’s book Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World.  Through Wikiversity I found that this spring a module Political Simulations and Gaming is being created through the Department of Board Game Design  at the University of Westminster.  I will check back in a few months.  Seems a great potential resource.

The naysayers such as Keen are like the Ottoman Empire in the mid-1400s who issued a death sentence for those using the Gutenberg printing press.  (I got that info from a scholarly reference cited on a Wikipedia page.)  Wikipedia and other online user-generated resources have the same range of quality as the “professional” community.   As with the Gutenberg’s press in the 1400s, Wikipedia and other user-generated resources will continue to grow as new technologies.  In just a few years, Wikipedia has quite admirably raised the bar of their quality.  Such user-generated resources are effective tools for the types of engagement that archaeologists and museum professional strive in their outreach efforts to the broad public we serve.

Try this – go to Wikipedia and search your favorite archaeological or museum something – whether NAGPRA, Hopewell Culture, Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Field Museum of Natural History . . . Then ask yourself, is this good user-generated information for the public to have ready access?  If it is, that’s great.  If not, perhaps you should use some of your own expertise to user-generate some content!

How do you use Wikipedia or other online sources in your work?

Learning Through the Museum Assessment Program

In this week’s post, I want to highlight one of the most effective museum review processes around –  the American Association of Museum’s (AAM) Museum Assessment Program (MAP).  If you are not affiliated with a museum, the MAP model of mentoring is an ideal for other nonprofits to support their base constituencies.  The MAP process first guides an institution through an intensive period of self-study.  Next, the self-study documentation is assigned to an external peer reviewer, who then visits the institution for an onsite review.  Finally, the reviewer produces a report that is delivered to the institution with recommendations to help guide the museum through its short and long-term tasks for best practices.  Over the past two years at the C.H. Nash Museum, we completed two separate MAP reviews – one that considered our entire institutional operation and a second that focused on our collections.  As a reasonably small museum, we found this process extremely helpful.

Here are our major takeaways from the process:

  • During our weekly meetings for the self-study period, all staff, including our graduate assistants met and discussed specific questions in the MAP review.  The decision to engage the entire staff in the study allowed us to build a solid foundation for both the peer review and the final report.  Through the self-study,I learned a great deal about aspects of our operation that are not part of my day-to-day experience at the museum.  The self-study is structured such that it produces a truly holistic assessment of the museum operation.
  • Both of our MAP final reports produced superb analyses and recommendations for our museum operation.  The recommendations were organized as short, middle, and long-term goals and further ranked by cost to carry out.  The final report also included resources to guide the implementation of the recommendations.
  • Carry the prestige and authority of the AAM, our governing authority and board were very receptive to the final report recommendations.  As a  small institution with perhaps too many pokers in the fire, the MAP process formed a basis for us to strategically reassess our process for the coming years.
  • I also appreciate that the MAP program does not end with the final report.  Both of our AAM reviewers extended an open invitation to remain in dialogue as we work through the report recommendations.

As well, MAP now provides a resource for digital interaction with a newly launched on-line community for MAP participants.  Some of the on-line resources include:

  • a guide for using completed MAP reports to leverage funding for museum projects and needs
  • a set of links for museum best practices
  • a series of webinars on a range of museum practices
  • and a recently launched blog that will hopefully continue to grow

The MAP program is an excellent resource particularly for the small to mid-sized museums that need to step back and take a fresh look at their total operation in general or as a first step toward AAM accreditation.  The MAP process is a very useful tool as we move into the new realities of sustainable, engaged, and socially relevant museum operations.

Have you benefited from a MAP or similar type of experience?

Visit the MAP weblink for more information about applying for the program.

How to Get Published in Anthropology & Why

An issue that I pursue rather relentlessly with students is the need to publish their research.  I argue the point less from the “publish or perish” perspective of higher education  – a view that is undergoing radical revision now and will continue to change as the very concept of what constitutes a “peer-reviewed” product evolves.  Rather, I argue the point from several different perspectives.  First, I look at my file drawer of graduate school papers and projects filed and forgotten after the end of long-ago semesters or when another commitment came along, despite the potential of the research.   Second, I point to our obligation to inform the public who foot the bill for the research projects through grants, tuition waivers, and fellowships.  Third, I note that having a GPA between 3.5 and 4.0 is not a big deal in today’s era of grade inflation.  The student or emerging professional needs a mechanism to have their abilities and accomplishments stand out from the rest of the pack when applying for graduate school or entry level jobs.

A publication can be the mechanism to highlight the student’s ability, whether in a peer-reviewed journal such as American Anthropologist, American Antiquity, or Curator, online peer-reviewed journals such as Tennessee Archaeology, Museums and Society, or even in blogs.  (See this link for an interesting discussion on the use of blogs in tenure and promotion processes.)

A colleague, Judson Finley requires graduate students in his courses to write and submit a book review to a professional journal for publication.  This practice seems a good first step for students to take toward publishing.

Another tool is the recently published How to Get Published in Anthropology: A Guide for Students and Young Professionals, edited by Jason E. Miller and Oona Schmid, published by AltaMira Press.  Like the Anthropology Graduate’s Guide that I reviewed last spring, Miller and Schmid’s volume answers many of the questions students either did not know or felt they should know and therefore were afraid to ask.  The book is divided into three parts.

Part 1 contains five chapters that lead the reader through basic instructions and advice that follow a logical progression from the initial concept for a presentation through to publication in a professional journal.  The chapter subjects include the relevance of attending professional conferences and the process of participating in and organizing sessions, creating posters for conferences, paper presentation techniques and skills, and turning dissertations and conference papers into publications.

Part 2 contains five chapters that address the specific publication considerations of anthropology subdisciplines including archaeology, applied, physical, sociocultural, linguistic, medical and visual fields.  The individual chapters discuss the types of publications and advice specific to each subdiscipline.  The individual chapters also take up more universally applied themes such writing styles, deadlines, web resources and more.

Part 3 contains four chapters that review topical areas specific to the publication process such as press and author agreements, issues of copyright, and author collaboration.  Hugh Jarvis’ final chapter “Online Opportunities and Challenges” is a good read on several levels.  Jarvis, a true pioneer in Anthropology on the internet, challenges the reader to consider their online persona, along with the worth and limitations in online publication, and the internet as an information source.

Two appendices list peer-reviewed anthropology journals and publishers of anthropology monographs.

Overall, the volume is balanced and practical in its approach.  The reader however is cautioned not to take the advice as gospel.  For example,  the admonition to heed the maxim of “No chapters in edited volumes until tenure” (p. 39) assumes that all readers are tenure track academicians, a notion that is simply out-of-step with career trajectories of not just anthropology but the social sciences in general.  In such instances, the volume would benefit from taking the broader intent that the editors note in the Introduction that the “book focuses on publishing that plays a role in your ability to secure a job and have a career as an anthropologist” (p. ix) regardless of where that career might be.

As I note at the outset of this post, the public presentation of research should not simply be a means to achieve tenure but an integral responsibility of all public research efforts.  If we are not vigilant in this regard, then folks such as the Florida Governor can rant away about the inconsequential nature of anthropological research. Regardless, How to Get Published in Anthropology is an excellent primer for getting your feet wet in the publishing business.

Wellness and Museums

With a quadrupling of childhood obesity in the last 40 years, food and wellness seem to be all over the museum world of late.

  • A recent blog post at the Center for the Future of Museums by David Curry reports on last month’s Feeding the Spirit: Museums, Food and Community held in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.   The meeting was organized through a collaboration of institutions ranging from the Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Garden to the Association of Children’s Museums.  Curry notes that his “. . . key observation (which I am still reflecting on) is about how rich the collaborative networks were that underpinned all these projects.”
  • The current issue of Museums & Social Issues addresses Pursuing Wellness.  The volume draws on museums focused in science, art, health care, agriculture, and outreach projects such as the Field Museum’s Division of Environment, Culture and Conservation.
  • The Institute of Museums and Library Services’s  Let’s Move! Museums & Gardens initiative dovetails with the program sponsored by First Lady Michelle Obama.  The Let’s Move’s October 2011 newsletter lists nearly 500 institutions that launched activities around the initiative. Twenty-five percent of those  institutions are Children or Youth Museums.
  • The Dallas Crow Collection now hosts a Yoga for Youth activity to “provide family programming using original art, stories, music, and sensory integrated activities to align healthy Minds, Bodies, Hearts through Art.”
  • The Museums Association in the UK calls for the integration of museum visits into the measures of “wellbeing” from the Office of National Statistics.

The wellbeing theme flows directly from the American Association of Museum‘s 2002 publication Mastering Civic Engagement: A Challenge to Museums.   In that volume Ellen Hirzy (2002:9) considers civic engagement to mean “ . . . when the museum and community intersect – in a subtle and overt way, over time, and as an accepted and natural way of doing business.”  She also argues (2002:16) that “Working together or diversifying audiences is not enough. What is needed are reciprocal, co-created relationships that connect the assets and purposes of organizations.”

A key part in this discussion harkens back to Robert Janes’ call for museums to be relevant in the lives of the public they serve.  I am struck that if that relevance does not draw on a museum’s mission and collections then the relationship is unsustainable and will simply become another piece of baggage to weigh the institution down.  A quick scan of the October 2011 Newsletter of the Let’s Move initiative shows how this relevance occurs at the many reporting institutions.

At the C.H. Nash Museum, the visiting public was way ahead of our own work in this area.  We were quite surprised, or at least I was, that 60% of the respondents to a spring of 2011 visitor survey asked that we expand our programming to include more of our 100 acre wooded natural environment.  We have a good response to our calls for volunteers to help with our herb garden, arboretum, sweetgrass bed, and  as we go about launching the next phase of the Traditional Medicinal Plant Sanctuary along our nature trail.  After our volunteer activities on November 19th, Graduate Assistants Megan Keener and Mallory Bader will host a tea tasting made from plants grown in our herb garden, along with snacks inspired by the traditional foods of the Chickasaw Nation.

How can your institution promote a healthy lifestyle for visitors?

What does Steve Jobs have to do with IT?

What does Steve Jobs have to do with Archaeology, Museums & Outreach?  My answer is not found in any of the recently published homages on his life or in one of his visionary quotable quotes.  Instead, consider the perspective that likens Steve Jobs and Apple Computer to a museum and the Apple products to the exhibits or the archaeological excavations.  Here are just a few points of comparison:

  • Apple products are intuitive but not simple.  They have the power and the ability to do any task but they excel in taking the user from the skill level where they are to where they want to go.  Consider something as simple as the difference between Apple’s Keynote program compared to Microsoft’s PowerPoint.  I think of this point when considering exhibit design.  A while ago I wrote about how we envisioned an ethnobotany exhibit at the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa that took complex material but presented the information on multiple intuitive levels.  Last week I wrote about presenting the intricacies of prehistoric engineering to the public.   The punch line is that contrary to our assumptions that folks just won’t understand or be interested in complex concepts, the Apple model suggests that you take folks from where they are at and launch them on a journey without limits.  Apple excels in achieving this end.
  • Here is a dangerous statement – Apple’s customer service is fantastic.  I am certain that some folks have horror stories to tell about their Apple product service.  Here is my story – I have owned nothing but Apple computer products since 1988.  Over that period, I have never had an unresolved issue with anyone at Apple computer – including on one occasion replacing a warranty expired Power Mac at no cost.  My concerns were always at the forefront of the Apple employee who answered the phone or was assigned to my case.  A standard line I go over in both the classroom and at the Museum is that the only reason we exist is for the visiting public.  Without the visitor, museums would function only as repositories or research institutions.  As I noted in last week’s post, I also remind students and staff that the majority of us in museums are on the public dole, supported by tax dollars in one form or another, and  we must be able to explain our relevance to the public who pay our salaries.
  • If you have visited an Apple Store, you know they can be rather chaotic places, especially around the time of new product releases.  But I am impressed that the focus of these stores remains on the Great Thing or the Apple products themselves.  Each store has rows of wooden tables on which sit the complete range of Apple products for the customer to try.  If you look around the store, there are no bells and whistles, techno light shows and so forth.  There are just tables of products and people.  In museums and in archaeology, we often become enticed by the glamor of touch tables, mobile apps, or gaming that become ends in themselves and draw attention away from the Great Thing.  Last year I posted on a low-tech but thoroughly engaging experience at the Pearl Button Museum in Muscatine Iowa.  As well, this book cover has always impressed me with what a very simple tactile engagement with the Great Thing can mean.
As I said at the outset, I don’t know anything about Steve Jobs the person or the business person.  But my 20 year plus relationship with the products his vision inspired has been a great trip.  I am reminded of my experience in  linguistics classes as an undergraduate.  I took more than the required number of the dreaded courses because I found them to be so interesting and applicable to other aspects of my life and research interests.  In fact, those linguistics courses led me to focus my doctoral dissertation work on prehistoric “architectural grammars.”  I find the same thing in what I perceive as the vision of Steve Jobs – it leads in directions, to borrow from Levi-Strauss, that are “good to think with.”  I thank Steve Jobs for the vision.

Are Museum Ethics Changing?

One of the student assignments in the Museum Studies graduate seminar I lead each fall semester at the University of Memphis is to provide annotated references each week on the seminar topic.  I enjoy the diverse responses from graduate students in Art History, Earth Science, Anthropology, History and other disciplines.  That diversity allows me to think outside of my worldview as the director of the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa.  One of my intents with the assignment is build a database of resources to share on the range of Museum Practices issues.  In the coming weeks, I will occasionally feature selections of those resources on this blog, especially as they relate to public engagement of museums and archaeology.

Early in the seminar we take up the issue of Museum Ethics.  Here are some of those resources:

  • Treatment and Repatriation of Human Remains – Katherine Broome wrote about the website set up by family members and first responders of the September 11, 2001 disaster at the World Trade Center.  The group’s function is to galvanize opposition to the placement of human remains in any memorial museum at the site.  The May 2011 issue of Anthropology Today, has an update by the advisors to the group.  Within the U.S., for the last 25 years museum questions about human remains have principally focused on those of Native Americans as a result of the Native American Grave Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA).  Here is a link to an updated scholarly treatment on the impacts of NAGPRA.  Cori Ogleton came across a statement from the Pitt Rivers Museum in the UK about the exhibiting of human remains.  The governing policy of the Museum on the treatment and repatriation of human remains is also available.  A primary difference between the U.S. and U.K. policies is the formal legislation in the U.S. compared to less structured guidelines in the U.K.  As well, the role of the relative or descendent voices of the human remains held in the U.K. seems considerably less in the U.S.  The treatment and repatriation of human remains is a critical issue in public outreach in both archaeology and museums today.  In the U.S., our institutions are now directly accountable to the citizens whose collections they curate.
  • Treatment and Repatriation of Cultural Materials – The Elgin Marbles have long been a touchstone for discussing the repatriation of cultural materials.  That horizon has broadened considerably   Katie Maish found a formal discussion between Malcolm Bell III who notes the loss of context when art is taken from its original setting and James Cuno who promotes the cause of the Universalist Museum approach.  Noteworthy is that only Western Institutions signed the 2002 Declaration of Importance and Value of Universal Museums.  Alex Pearson came across an excellent blog that discusses the generalities and specific instances of looting and museums ethical responsibility.  The repatriation and exhibition of a cultural materials will continue to be a substantive issue that faces archaeologists and museums in their very ability to conduct public outreach.  Does the public’s desire to view prehistoric ceramic vessels override the objections of those descendent voices, also a part of that public, who wish for the objects to be kept from public view?  If the public’s desire to view these objects is considered paramount, why are they for the most part locked away in repositories away from public view?
  • And in General – The American Association of Museums (AAM), the International Council of Museums, the Society for American Archaeology, and most other national organizations make their code of ethics available on-line.  Megan Keener reported an interesting project from the Center for the Future of Museums of the American Association of Museums.  The project invited practitioners from a diversity of museum settings to consider the needs for amending the AAM’s current code of ethics.  The discussion notes that codes need constant updating to address the evolving and dynamic pace of world events.  Here is an example of the project’s discussion.  The Institute of Museum Ethics at Seton Hall University also has abundant resources on the subject.

The accountability demanded of archaeologists and museum professionals by the very voices whose materials cultural they curate is rightfully on the rise and will continue to grow.  As well, as archaeologists and museum professionals are employed in nonprofit and publicly financed institutions, in an era of decreasing discretionary dollars, institutions that are unable to explain their relevancy to the public likely will not, and should not, survive.  In this capacity, ethics takes on an increased role.

How has your institution been faced with new ethical considerations?

Museums, Memory & Change

So I have a story to tell about a lesson learned.  Here goes . . .

In last Friday’s Commercial Appeal I saw that the Memphis Symphony Orchestra was going to perform Modest Mussorgsky‘s Pictures at an Exhibition.  This piece of music holds a deep fascination for me.  At the age of 14, Pictures at an Exhibition was the first classical music I ever heard.  Since then, I have listened to the half hour score a couple hundred times, either as the original piano piece or as orchestrated by Ravel.  Pictures at an Exhibition is the most powerful piece of music I have ever heard.   Here is the story of all that.

So when I read about the upcoming performance, my wife Emma and I decided to go.  I had not heard the piece played live by a full symphony in about 30 years.  I was excited about the upcoming performance.  I thought the experience might even supersede the incredible Bob Dylan concert from earlier this summer.

This past Saturday was the Symphony performance.  The show began with several movements from Michael Gandolifi’s The Garden of Cosmic Speculations – a pleasant and surreal experience.  Then there was 25 minutes of violin and orchestra concertos that were relaxing and perfectly executed.  Next was the intermission and then there was Pictures at an Exhibition.

Before beginning the piece, Conductor Mei-Ann Chen introduced Jose Francisco Salgado from the Adler Planetarium in Chicago.  Salgado talked about the iMaxesque visual performance that was going to play along with the performance that evening.  The visual was going to contain lots of images of the cosmos, galaxies, and other such things.  I listened in complete disconnect.  What did these celestial images have to do with the piece written in the 1800s by Mussorgsky to commemorate the death of a painter friend?  Or my history with the piece that included traipsing through art museums over the years, from my first experience at Cincinnati Art Museum, or the Art Institute of Chicago where I saw my first Van Gogh, to the my favorite, the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis?  or how Pictures at an Exhibition played in my head when walking through the cityscapes of my life travels?   None of my history with the piece were remotely related to cosmic imagery.

The musicality of the live performance on Saturday surpassed my iPod experiences with the piece while mountain biking, or now as I write this, or any other sound system Mussorgsky has played on over the past years.  I kept my eyes closed during the concert, trying to get in touch with my expectations for the piece.  I was distracted by the “oohs” and “ahhs” of the audience fixated on the celestial images that broke the reverence I held for the piece.

I talked with Emma about the experience as we left the concert hall.  She thoroughly enjoyed the visual experience and was not buying my point of view.  She raved about how the visual was linked to pace of the music – how it all flowed together.  But the processing of my reaction hit me over the head like a ton of bricks.  I had my history with the piece.  I now experienced what all the folks who come to museums and want to see what they saw as a kid, or thirty years ago.  My response to the concert was no different from the folks who come to the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa where I am the Director and want to see the staged Native American performance in the reconstructed village they remember from the 1970s.  I thought about a video from The Pinky Show – “We Love Museums . . . Do Museums Love Us Back?”   The cartoon mockumentary of sorts notes that the museum’s job is “To treat each object in the collection like it is frozen in time.  Nothing is allowed to get old and fall apart, which of course is impossible and goes against the laws of nature.”

To quote Pogo “We have met the enemy and he is us.”  I have a new perspective on linking past performance to the present and into the future.  I noted to Emma that had I known in advance about the visual show during the concert performance, I could have reconciled myself to the reality, and even enjoyed the fresh approach.  I think of the occasional letter I get from a disgruntled visitor to our museum whose expectations weren’t met based on their visit from 20 years ago.  Though I can respond about our new exhibits, the hands-on lab, arboretum, herb garden and more, that does not address their expectations not being met.  I understand that place better now.

How do you prepare visitors for change?

Museums, Archaeology & Mobile Apps

Got myself an iPad a couple of weeks ago so I am now learning about the mobile app business.  I have to confess that the biggest draw for me in taking the iPad plunge was to use a music/sound making app called Reactable.  At the same, I sufficiently rationalized the iPad’s portability and work applications as factors to justify the cost.  To dutifully follow-up on the rationalizations, I went to the App Store and searched on Anthropology, Archaeology, Museums to see what all was out there.  There is a good bit of cool stuff.  You can tour Roman-era London via the Londinium app produced by the Museum of London, explore the Please Touch the Exhibit app from the Melbourne Museum, view fine art in the Philips Collection multimedia app based in Washington D.C., and on and on . . .

There is a good bit of museum and archaeology app stuff out there.  But are these apps the latest fad, toys, or what?  As is often the case the American Association of Museum provides a good summary overview text on the subject.  Mobile Apps for Museums: The AAM Guide to Planning and Strategy edited by Nancy Proctor is a good place to start investigating the applicability of these new mobile applications.  Proctor is the Smithsonian’s Head of New Media Initiatives.

In 100 pages, the volume contains 12 brief overview essays on almost all phases of mobile apps from the technical to practical considerations.  An additional 12-page glossary interprets the jargon inherent in any such discussion.  Although a careful read of the entire volume is worthwhile, several essays stood out to me:

  •  Robert Stein’s essay “Mobile Content Strategies for Content Sharing and Long-Term Sustainability” deals with the compatibility of museum apps across time and space.  He reports on a paper he and Proctor co-authored at the 2011 Museums and the Web Conference that addresses this issue and references the TourML wiki as a source for ongoing dialogue.  The upshot of the article is recognizing the importance in the early stages of app development that there are industry standards to assure the production of quality and interactive products.
  • Kate Haley Goldman’s essay “Understanding Adoption of Mobile Technology with Museums” is an important first read for anyone considering mobile apps in museum settings.   Goldman astutely observes that “for institutions already using mobile interpretation, encouraging visitors to use the mobile interpretation was the largest challenge.  Yet for others – vendors and researchers, as well as those considering projects – attracting new visitors via mobile was a primary goal.  This disconnect represents a great opportunity for future research” (p. 67).  Goldman speculates that part of the disconnect comes from the validity and reliability of the visitor survey measures.  She argues for visitor based longitudinal studies to help clarify the issue.  This understanding echoes Clay Shirkey’s concern that internet technology must be relevant to existing behavior.
  • Jane Burton’s essay “Playful Apps” provides another layer of insights as the relationship of the museum user to museum apps. She notes that you can explore physics by playing Launchball from the Science Museum of London or learn about human origins by visiting Meanderthal from the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History.  She cites Flurry, a San Francisco based smartphone analytics firm report, in noting that “studying the U.S. mobile gamer, we note that she earns over 50% more than the average American, is more than twice as likely to have earned a college bachelor’s degree, and is more like to be white or Asian” (p. 74).  Like Goldman, she finds that conventional wisdom on app adoption and use in museums might be suspect and counter the conventional wisdom of the typical app user.
The collection of essays provides an excellent starting point and balanced overview for anyone wishing to get beyond the immediate must have hype or the flip side of too quickly dismissing the use of mobile apps in museum or archaeology public engagement efforts.  However, except for an essay on mobile apps at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, no author in the volume considered in a substantive way whether the apps actually fit in with the mission of the museum or organization.  Proposals for adopting such new technology that are thoroughly enmeshed in the mission of the institution will allow justification of the high cost of app development and equipment often needed to operate the systems.  Otherwise, nay sayers (and funders) may argue that we are just jumping on to the latest interpretive fad.

What is your experience with mobile apps?

From Me to We: Museums & Communities

In academia today there is a tension between the importance of interdisciplinary studies compared to single discipline research.  Although universities encourage collaboration across disciplines as an effective means for applied research individuals are evaluated and rewarded for production within their own departments.  To see the range of the discussion on this point, google interdisciplinary studies on the Chronicle of Higher Education website.

This tension can also be framed within a me vs we approach.  In a strict disciplinary approach, departments are viewed as individual “me” silos concerned foremost with their own self-interest and often with little concern about what happens outside of their own walls.  The interdisciplinary approach is considerably more engaging as a web of interaction that plays off of multiple partners.  In this capacity, the product of the interdisciplinary whole is more than the sum its individual departmental components creating a group synergy.

I have thought about the need for an interdisciplinary approach for a cultural heritage development in project in Orange Mound, an African American community of Memphis Tennessee with roots extending into the late 1800s.  The Museum Studies Graduate Certificate Program at the University of Memphis is currently assisting the Orange Mound community in the creation of a local component for the traveling exhibit The Way We Worked from the Smithsonian Institution.  Orange Mound community discussions around the exhibit immediately raised possibilities for other cultural heritage projects.  In Memphis, there are many individual neighborhood possibilities but little in the way of a collaborative approach.  For example, typical cultural resource management archaeological projects result in gray literature reports and boxes of cultural materials, but little in the way public access or presentation.  A notable exception includes virtual presentations such as the Lamar Terrace project.  As well, for the past five years, the Rhodes College Crossroads to Freedom Project has collected oral history from the African American community.  I have posted before about community cultural heritage the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa collaborated on in Southwest Memphis.  But there is little or no effort to develop an interdisciplinary consortium of collaboration for these types of projects

Interdisciplinary projects have demonstrated considerable worth in broader community development.  For example, at the University of Memphis a colleague, Katherine Lambert-Pennington recently received national recognition for her work in this area.

When considering cultural heritage projects such as at Orange Mound, an interdisciplinary approach seems the most fitting.  The Collaborative for Cultural Heritage and Museum Practices (CHAMP) at the University of Illinois is one such example.  A quick scan of the CHAMP faculty demonstrates the broad interdisciplinary approach that the Collaborative can bring to any issue.  Consider the breadth of those faculty and their resources to envision any cultural heritage or museum project.  Consider how that interdisciplinary set of skills and ability will benefit the greater whole.  I suspect that there are few cultural heritage projects where going it alone will produce a better product.  However, such the multidisciplinary approach necessitates that we all move out of our individual silos and into a web of interconnection with others.

How can you benefit from a collaborative interdisciplinary relationship?