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 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?
This year, Doug McQuirter, a graduate student in the History Department wrote a compelling response that is particularly apt for the current socio-political climate in the U.S. Here is his essay:
The specter of hyper-capitalism Robert Janes (2009), the malignant fast capitalism warned of by Randall H. McGuire’s Archaeology as Political Action (2008), or any of the political positions espoused by the Paul Ryan House of Representatives espouse a knee-jerk reaction against any form of wealth transfer from the wealthy to the poor. However, this statement turns the argument on its head; a reverse Robin Hood, transferring wealth from the poor to the rich. It is a brilliantly framed obfuscation of anti-intellectualist thought. How better to sell fund-cutting than to present it as protecting the poor from egghead intellectuals and their myriad ways of burning money with pointless research.
Social scientists are in the same tough position that history and humanities researchers are in, namely, they are not curing diseases or building rocket ships, so who cares if Richard III is found in a parking lot or if Nat Turner suffered from mental illness. Non-STEM research, and for the terms of this question, museum/anthropological research is crucial for studying social cohesion and resolving the problems of the past. Museums provide learning but also leisure for all. If Josephine Q. Public is not a museumgoer, then this is going to be a tough sell. Museums, after all, do not cure diseases. However, the intellectual stimulation that museums provide, no matter how abstract it may seem at first glance, is crucial to the health and well-being of the community and greater society. Seeing the Enola Gay at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum can be a simple stop-and-glance, but it can also be a target of a field trip for fifth graders learning about war and its cruelty. Viewing the ceremonial clothes at Chucalissa could be something to give cursory attention, but it might also trigger vivid memories of a family member for a burgeoning fiction writer. These are the hard-to-grasp reasons why people must go to museums, and this is why tax dollars must continue to fund them.
Museums for the most part provide an optional, supplementary role in education. They are an option. They provide extra context. Nothing about museums requires one to go. The Ferrell and Medvedeva reading (2010) point to reasons why minority populations do not visit museums. The population is changing, and those who are becoming more prominent do not visit. This must change and ideas need to flow on how to include underrepresented groups. Nevertheless, assimilation of immigrant communities does not occur without bringing their stories and histories into the grand narrative. Museums provide the structure to present these histories. The Ellis Island National Museum of Immigration exemplifies a successful insertion of telling the immigrants’ stories.
Why should museums use tax dollars then? Robert Janes put it best by stating that museums are public sector but they are increasingly reliant on private sector means (2009: 16). If museums received more money from state and federal outlays, then one could easily bet that they would give up the private-sector development game. That would be true with anyone, but museums do not produce widgets, nor do they involve a great amount of personal interactions with many other people. Tours can successfully cope with one or two docents. Therefore, there is not much overhead to speak of in the average one-room county historical society museum. Unless they are the Met or the Getty, they are not going to generate income on name alone. They are not public companies, beholden to shareholders. They are about as public as one can get without being a government agency. They conserve and present national treasures, products of human ingenuity, and bravely examine social problems. If the hyper-capitalist’s run their ideas to their logical conclusions, then there would only be a few museums that presented historical documents and objects more in the style of the National Archive, only fee-based. It would be pay-as-you-go. Objects would be in storage to save money, only to come out if someone wanted to view it and pay a fee. Ferrell and Medvedeva’s research on future trends would be rendered useless, as very few people, other than those with time and money would want to go through the bother of this. Museums, therefore, establish and maintain the sanctity of citizenship, by creating and maintaining a healthy dissent and critique of the grand narratives that drove this country for so long. A worry for the future is that people are not going to care about these critiques, and live in their pseudo-historical fantasies and conspiracies. Museums that practice critical thinking and are socially activist are a way to counter these dangerous practices and habits. They are also pressure release valves for dissenters and skeptics of the official grand narrative. While Josephine Q. Public, for example, may be politically opposed to the mission of the National Civil Rights Museum, its existence and its attempts to demarginalize the history of civil rights and bring it to the foreground of the narrative is healthy and necessary for social cohesion. She would be hard pressed to argue with that.
Farrell, Betty and Maria Medvedeva. 2010. Demographic Transformation and the Future of Museum. American Association of Museums.
Janes, Robert R. 2009. “Museums and Irrelevance.” In Museums in a Troubled World. Routledge.
McGuire, Randall H. 2008. Archaeology as Political Action. University of California Press.
Contact Doug at hdmcqrtr(at)memphis.edu
Most definitely a song for our times. Listen to Dylan sing this in 1963 and Patti Smith’s very moving performance at the Nobel awards. Follow along and absorb the lyrics. Incredibly apt for Dylan to win the Nobel award and for this song to be chosen for the award’s event.
Oh, where have you been, my blue-eyed son?
Oh, where have you been, my darling young one?
I’ve stumbled on the side of twelve misty mountains
I’ve walked and I’ve crawled on six crooked highways
I’ve stepped in the middle of seven sad forests
I’ve been out in front of a dozen dead oceans
I’ve been ten thousand miles in the mouth of a graveyard
And it’s a hard, and it’s a hard, it’s a hard, and it’s a hard
And it’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall
Oh, what did you see, my blue-eyed son?
Oh, what did you see, my darling young one?
I saw a newborn baby with wild wolves all around it
I saw a highway of diamonds with nobody on it
I saw a black branch with blood that kept drippin’
I saw a room full of men with their hammers a-bleedin’
I saw a white ladder all covered with water
I saw ten thousand talkers whose tongues were all broken
I saw guns and sharp swords in the hands of young children
And it’s a hard, and it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard
And it’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall
And what did you hear, my blue-eyed son?
And what did you hear, my darling young one?
I heard the sound of a thunder, it roared out a warnin’
Heard the roar of a wave that could drown the whole world
Heard one hundred drummers whose hands were a-blazin’
Heard ten thousand whisperin’ and nobody listenin’
Heard one person starve, I heard many people laughin’
Heard the song of a poet who died in the gutter
Heard the sound of a clown who cried in the alley
And it’s a hard, and it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard
And it’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall
Oh, who did you meet, my blue-eyed son?
Who did you meet, my darling young one?
I met a young child beside a dead pony
I met a white man who walked a black dog
I met a young woman whose body was burning
I met a young girl, she gave me a rainbow
I met one man who was wounded in love
I met another man who was wounded with hatred
And it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard
It’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall
Oh, what’ll you do now, my blue-eyed son?
Oh, what’ll you do now, my darling young one?
I’m a-goin’ back out ’fore the rain starts a-fallin’
I’ll walk to the depths of the deepest black forest
Where the people are many and their hands are all empty
Where the pellets of poison are flooding their waters
Where the home in the valley meets the damp dirty prison
Where the executioner’s face is always well hidden
Where hunger is ugly, where souls are forgotten
Where black is the color, where none is the number
And I’ll tell it and think it and speak it and breathe it
And reflect it from the mountain so all souls can see it
Then I’ll stand on the ocean until I start sinkin’
But I’ll know my song well before I start singin’
And it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard
It’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall
|© The Nobel Foundation 2016.
General permission is granted for immediate publication in editorial contexts, in print or online, in any language within two weeks of December 10, 2016. Thereafter, any publication requires the consent of the Nobel Foundation. On all publications in full or in major parts the above copyright notice must be applied.
Banquet speech by Bob Dylan given by the United States Ambassador to Sweden Azita Raji, at the Nobel Banquet, 10 December 2016.
Good evening, everyone. I extend my warmest greetings to the members of the Swedish Academy and to all of the other distinguished guests in attendance tonight.
I’m sorry I can’t be with you in person, but please know that I am most definitely with you in spirit and honored to be receiving such a prestigious prize. Being awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature is something I never could have imagined or seen coming. From an early age, I’ve been familiar with and reading and absorbing the works of those who were deemed worthy of such a distinction: Kipling, Shaw, Thomas Mann, Pearl Buck, Albert Camus, Hemingway. These giants of literature whose works are taught in the schoolroom, housed in libraries around the world and spoken of in reverent tones have always made a deep impression. That I now join the names on such a list is truly beyond words.
I don’t know if these men and women ever thought of the Nobel honor for themselves, but I suppose that anyone writing a book, or a poem, or a play anywhere in the world might harbor that secret dream deep down inside. It’s probably buried so deep that they don’t even know it’s there.
If someone had ever told me that I had the slightest chance of winning the Nobel Prize, I would have to think that I’d have about the same odds as standing on the moon. In fact, during the year I was born and for a few years after, there wasn’t anyone in the world who was considered good enough to win this Nobel Prize. So, I recognize that I am in very rare company, to say the least.
I was out on the road when I received this surprising news, and it took me more than a few minutes to properly process it. I began to think about William Shakespeare, the great literary figure. I would reckon he thought of himself as a dramatist. The thought that he was writing literature couldn’t have entered his head. His words were written for the stage. Meant to be spoken not read. When he was writing Hamlet, I’m sure he was thinking about a lot of different things: “Who’re the right actors for these roles?” “How should this be staged?” “Do I really want to set this in Denmark?” His creative vision and ambitions were no doubt at the forefront of his mind, but there were also more mundane matters to consider and deal with. “Is the financing in place?” “Are there enough good seats for my patrons?” “Where am I going to get a human skull?” I would bet that the farthest thing from Shakespeare’s mind was the question “Is this literature?”
When I started writing songs as a teenager, and even as I started to achieve some renown for my abilities, my aspirations for these songs only went so far. I thought they could be heard in coffee houses or bars, maybe later in places like Carnegie Hall, the London Palladium. If I was really dreaming big, maybe I could imagine getting to make a record and then hearing my songs on the radio. That was really the big prize in my mind. Making records and hearing your songs on the radio meant that you were reaching a big audience and that you might get to keep doing what you had set out to do.
Well, I’ve been doing what I set out to do for a long time, now. I’ve made dozens of records and played thousands of concerts all around the world. But it’s my songs that are at the vital center of almost everything I do. They seemed to have found a place in the lives of many people throughout many different cultures and I’m grateful for that.
But there’s one thing I must say. As a performer I’ve played for 50,000 people and I’ve played for 50 people and I can tell you that it is harder to play for 50 people. 50,000 people have a singular persona, not so with 50. Each person has an individual, separate identity, a world unto themselves. They can perceive things more clearly. Your honesty and how it relates to the depth of your talent is tried. The fact that the Nobel committee is so small is not lost on me.
But, like Shakespeare, I too am often occupied with the pursuit of my creative endeavors and dealing with all aspects of life’s mundane matters. “Who are the best musicians for these songs?” “Am I recording in the right studio?” “Is this song in the right key?” Some things never change, even in 400 years.
Not once have I ever had the time to ask myself, “Are my songs literature?”
So, I do thank the Swedish Academy, both for taking the time to consider that very question, and, ultimately, for providing such a wonderful answer.
My best wishes to you all,
After 35 years my friend and colleague, Nancy Hawkins is retiring at the end of this year from the Louisiana Division of Archaeology in Baton Rouge. Her final job responsibilities included Outreach, the Regional & Station Archaeology, Archaeology Month, Teacher Assistance and more. Nancy played a major role or was completely responsible for many of the highly successful projects carried out by the Division over the past three decades. These projects include The Indian Mounds of Northeast Louisiana Trail Guide, many of educational programs and publications by the Division, and most recently the successful nomination of the Poverty Point site as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. And there is a bunch more.
I first met Nancy in the winter of 1995 when I applied for the position of Station Archaeologist at the Poverty Point site. I don’t remember much of the interview process. I do remember riding with Nancy on the four-hour trip from Baton Rouge to Epps, Louisiana. I do remember how exciting I was to be considered for this position. I had visited Poverty Point four years before on a graduate student field trip, stood in the plaza and said “If I could get a job working here it would be like dying and going to heaven.” I got the job in 1996.
From 1996 to 2003 I was the Station Archaeologist. Over that period, I learned much from Nancy that helped guide my career for the next twenty years. Those lessons were not always easy, but critical for any success I was able to have. Here is some of what I learned from Nancy:
- Appreciate the big picture. In Nancy’s capacity of coordinating the entire Station and Regional Archaeology Program along with countless other activities and events, she always was as mindful of the whole as the individual parts. These lessons served me well in my later career when I juggled the interests of multiple individuals to build a central institutional mission.
- When I worked as the Station Archaeologist at Poverty Point, I absolutely loathed the Annual Reports we wrote that Nancy reviewed. I saw this task as the equivalent of writing a new PhD dissertation every year – and in many ways it was. But I joked with Nancy several years later when I was hired into a position where the organization had been on the decline for a several years, that annual reports and annual actions plans were the absolute key to keeping us on track to resurrect that institution. It was through Nancy’s thoroughness in reviewing and administering these reports that I learned to show an accountability in what we were charged to carry out as public stewards of cultural heritage.
- I have came to appreciate a thoroughness in working with Nancy on multiple projects over the years. I readily admit that when I began my tenure at Poverty Point, I was very much like a kid in the candy store with possibilities. I could zip from one project to another, trying to juggle too many balls in the air. I recollect well my irritation when I would send a new project I was particularly pleased with for Nancy’s review, and she might note that, yes it looked good, but the images could be more sharply focused, and the text could benefit from some reworking – and she was right. When I came to oversee the production of exhibits later as museum director or in applied student projects, I employed the same thoroughness and attention to detail – many times I suspect equally irritating the others, but providing them the same opportunity to learn.
- Nancy exhibited tremendous insights during her tenure the with the Division of Archaeology. Her vision for the Mounds Commission, the Louisiana Mounds Trail, and Poverty Point as a World Historic Site were absolutely instrumental to their becoming a reality. In that capacity Nancy demonstrated tremendous patience and commitment to seeing those projects through, despite the obstacles that regularly surfaced. This lesson has been absolutely key to my practice.
- Perhaps one of the greatest lessons I have learned from Nancy was watching her facilitate the many projects she successfully shepherded through during her tenure. Nancy masterfully could take just a little, find other resources and individuals with a common interest, get them working together, to produce a final product for which her name often appeared only as a footnote, but could clearly could not have occurred without her facilitation. Over the past 10 years, this lesson from Nancy proved a guiding focus of how I came to operate in a several capacities.
This list could go on. I enjoyed that Nancy could always ask tough questions, and still does for which I have no good answer – but force me to think. The one nagging question she repeated to me during a meeting just a couple of weeks ago – How are we able to evaluate the value of the public archaeology programs we create?
The State of Louisiana and public archaeology in general are much better today for the 35 years of service by Nancy Hawkins. I would be remiss if I did not note how she was always supported by and functioned as part of a team effort. Although there were certainly other capable folks both before and after my tenure in Louisiana Archaeology, what I consider my own personal Glory Days benefited not just from Nancy’s work but also the vision of individuals such as Tom Eubanks, Duke Rivett, Rachel Watson and all of my colleagues in the Regional and Station Archaeology Program.
As I am now retired to New Orleans, and taking up the cause of Louisiana Archaeology again as I am able, I have commiserated with Nancy about the decimation of so much cultural heritage work that was built over the past decades. I believe the decimation is largely the result of misplaced priorities and the short-sighted vision of many elected officials. There is no reason to be optimistic about the immediate future for cultural heritage resources in Louisiana or anywhere in the U.S. for that matter. We will need to take the best of old models and adapt them to a new set of realities. Without question the work by Nancy Hawkins and her colleagues over the past 35 years laid a solid foundation on which that future can be built.
Public or Applied Archaeology will play an increasingly important role in presenting and preserving cultural heritage of the United States in the coming period. As readers of this blog are aware, I advocate for demonstrating the public relevance of archaeology and museums. With a future certainty that discretionary spending will be increasingly cut, cultural heritage programs that best demonstrate their utility to the public, will stand the best chance of surviving.
Below are several links that show how this might work, first around the issue of metal detecting:
- Maureen Malloy, Manager of Public Education at the Society for American Archaeology is the lead author on a paper that evaluates the SAA role in advising on the National Geographic Channels Diggers program. The reality cable tv show featured avocational metal detectorists, often considered by professional archaeologists as a significant bane to their existence. Maureen presented the paper, Diggers Evaluating Diggers: A Collaboration between SAA and the National Geographic Channel, at last year’s SAA Annual meeting in Orlando. In the paper, Maureen and her co-authors trace the evolution of Diggers, demonstrating the positive impact that professional archaeologists were able to bring to the show’s content. The paper effectively argues for an engaged presence as a means to increase attention and action on the archaeological concerns in such programming.
- Matthew Reeves presented the SAA Webinar Working With Metal Detectorists: Citizen Science at Historic Montpelier and Engaging a New Constituency. Matt discusses the training program for the Montpelier detectorists and their work at the Montpelier site. The webinar is available for free to SAA members here. If you are not an SAA member but would like access to the webinar, drop me a note to see about making arrangements. Matt also recently published an article on the subject that provides considerable detail on the Montpelier project.
- The SAA For the Public webpages has a resource link dedicated to metal detecting and includes articles such as Reality Television and Metal Detecting: Let’s Be Part of the Solution and Not Add to the Problem by Giovanna Peebles. The page contains nearly two dozen other links on metal detecting, public engagement, and related legal issues.
- I would be remiss if I did not note the BBC comedy The Detectorists that is available on Netflix.
A couple of other recent links relevant to public archaeology include:
- Elizabeth Reetz, chair of the SAA’s Public Education Committee, recently posted a PowerPoint file Effectively Communicating Archaeology to the Public In Three Minutes or Less that contains information about advocacy work in archaeology. Of particular value, Elizabeth’s presentation addresses a point raised in Maureen’s SAA paper – how archaeologists and the public often talk on two different levels with two different sets of vocabularies and expectations. Elizabeth’s presentation is a great way to kick off a discussion on launching an advocacy campaign. And speaking of advocacy, check the Resource Guide for the just published volume I edited with Beth Bollwerk, Positioning Your Museum as a Critical Community Asset. The Guide contains over 30 Advocacy links to better guide public engagement in cultural heritage work.
- Finally Doug’s Archaeology recently posted a set of videos of papers on Community Archaeology from a recent conference of The Chartered Institute for Archaeologists, the leading professional body representing archaeologists working in the UK. The papers address and evaluate a diversity of community-based cultural heritage projects.
What other resources will you use to demonstrate the relevance of your cultural heritage projects funded by the public we are meant to serve?
I am not terribly interested in discussing how “they” got it wrong on the election predictions. I am very concerned about the potential reign of domestic terrorism the Trump victory is poised to unleash. Donald Trump’s scapegoating, misogynist, and racist words and deeds incite others to act. In my lifetime, the likes of David Duke have never considered presidential results as a victory for “our people”. To not remain vigilant and proactive to that reality is naive and irresponsible. These are not regional issues but involve the entire United States.
About half of the voters in the election cast their ballots for Trump. I was surprised, though I should not have been. I, like much of the U.S. population live isolated in my bubble where I can securely preach to the choir – this blog is perhaps an example. I can surround myself on Facebook with those who agree with me – in fact, I have intentionally unfriended some folks who posted what I considered unfounded conspiracy theories from the right. I am certain they were equally bored with my statements from the left.
A Modest Proposal
When I retired this past September at the age of 64, I made a decision to write one thank you note per day to a colleague or friend I had worked with in my career. I did not distinguish between those with whom I agreed or disagreed – only those with whom I had a professional relationship. Thus far I have written and mailed (hard copy not e-mail) over 80 notes. The process has become an integral part of my morning. I write my daily thank you note before I check email, drink a cup of coffee, or eat breakfast. Perhaps 20% of the folks I have written to have responded in some way. The responses have always led to an increased understanding of each other.
I intend to continue the daily note writing process, indefinitely. However, I will expand the list to include writing to those persons I suspect, or know disagree with me politically, and likely voted for Trump. The list will include friends, relatives, public officials, and those folks I unfriended on Facebook. I will ask that they join with me to assure that Trump’s rhetoric and direct calls to actions of violence and exclusion will not be tolerated. I will be prepared to engage in meaningful discussion about their visions for the next period in our country. I refuse to sit idly by and watch the logical conclusion of Trump’s hate speech unfold.
In 2008, like every year before, after the populace elected the first African-American President, there was no call to action until the time to re-elect him in 2012. Everyone could go back to their bubbles and preach to their choirs. I am convinced that we must break free of our bubbles of agreement and be accountable. I am also convinced that many of my friends and relatives who voted for Trump, while holding some values I do not share, are not advocates for acting on the misogynist and racist views he espouses.
I am a straight white male in my 60s. I can take the bumper stickers off my car, keep my mouth shut and blend in. The black youth walking down the street who are justifiably fearful of every police stop, cannot do the same. The Muslim men and women worshiping in their mosques, cannot do the same. My Hispanic friends and colleagues, cannot do the same. It is time for me and all others who share my privilege of birth to come out of our bubbles and be accountable. Remembering . . .
When the Nazis came for the communists, I remained silent; I was not a communist. When they locked up the social democrats, I remained silent; I was not a social democrat. When they came for the trade unionists, I did not speak out; I was not a trade unionist. When they came for the Jews, I remained silent; I wasn’t a Jew. When they came for me, there was no one left to speak out. – Martin Niemoeller, 1946
Join me in taking whatever steps are necessary to challenge the violence and harassment faced by those living in the U.S. who do not share a position of racial, gender, or economic privilege. This means engaging beyond our comfort level with those whom we disagree. This does not mean engaging in discussions with the David Duke’s of the world. This does mean engaging with those who can be proactive allies standing up and saying “No More!” to actions based in violence against others. This does mean getting out of our bubbles and being in community with those with whom we may not agree on all things, but who can serve as voices of reason, regardless of political affiliation. The challenge is not for today, or tomorrow, but for the next four years, and beyond. A simple note can be a starting point to make a difference.