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Medium 9781442265790

Digital Preservation for Libraries, Archives, and Museums

Collections ePub

Edward M Corrado and Heather Lea Moulaison

Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2014. 294 pp. ISBN: 978-0-8108-8712-1

Reviewed by Kristin Condotta, Adjunct Instructor in History, Washington University in St. Louis, St. Louis, MO; condotta@wustl.edu

Digital preservation is a leadership issue. This is the key and convincing argument of Edward M. Corrado and Heather Lea Moulaison’s Digital Preservation for Libraries, Archives, & Museums. Their book—which explores “preserving curating and preserving digital content for long-term access” in the arts and sciences—offers a reflective look at the digitization process from two scholars well experienced with web technologies (xix). Its stance is more “I wish I thought of/planned for that before starting” than “how-to,” and purposefully so. This big-picture approach allows their suggestions to be applicable across systems and institutions.

Corrado and Moulaison particularly promote a proactive approach to artifact and research digitization. They emphasize that such projects are long-term and need to be defined as clear yet flexible organizational, technological and financial commitments early in their inception. More centrally, the authors expand on the concerns of subject forerunner Michael Lesk as expressed in the book’s forward, that too much attention has gone to the IT aspects of digital preservation. They instead argue for a “triad of interrelated [and interdependent] activities,” or those relating to management, technology and content (17). They identify management, or the ability of project leaders to make transparent decisions about their digital collection’s access, composition and authenticity during its life-cycle, as the most valuable of these three commitments. As a result, Digital Preservation is geared towards a specific audience of librarians, archivists and curators—as opposed to collections specialists, cataloguers and systems technicians—who typically are charged with shaping the long-term trajectory of digital projects. It points out the ways that digital media share many issues with physical collections (i.e., fitting organizational missions, copyright and preservation), yet have their own challenges (i.e., rapidly changing formats). Above all, it provides the insight needed for these professionals and their institutes to craft forward-looking Memorandum of Understanding for their own digital preservation projects.

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Medium 9781442265790

Survivor(s)! Historical Peregrinations of New Orleans’s French Superior Council and Spanish Judicial Records

Collections ePub

Howard Margot

Curator, The Historic New Orleans Collection, Williams Research Center, 410 Chartres Street, New Orleans, LA 70130; howardm@hnoc.org

Abstract The city of New Orleans is home to extensive notarial and judicial manuscript records that document, often in minute detail, economic and legal activity in the Lower Mississippi Valley during the French (1699–1768) and Spanish (1769–1803) colonial periods. The legal custodianship of New Orleans’s largest colonial period archive has changed hands quite often over the last three centuries. This article recounts the peregrinations of these documents and their insertion into the collections of the Notarial Archives Division of the Orleans Parish Clerk of Civil Court’s office (NONA) and Old U.S. Mint of the Louisiana State Museum (LSM).

In addition to the considerable parochial archives of its Catholic Archdiocese (baptisms, marriages, deaths) and a modest but very important archive held in its main Public Library (the records of the Spanish Cabildo), the city of New Orleans is home to extensive notarial and judicial1 manuscript records that document, often in minute detail, economic and legal activity in the Lower Mississippi Valley during the French (1699–17682) and Spanish (1769–1803) colonial periods. Taken together, these three sets of records bear the names and witness to the lives of virtually every colonist who was propertied, and of many or most who were not, and of virtually every enslaved person who was ever publicly bought or sold or freed in New Orleans and environs during that span of time. But whereas the ecclesiastical and Cabildo (city hall) records have been continuously curated by the respective institutions that generated them in the eighteenth century, the legal custodianship of New Orleans’s largest colonial period archive—its notarial acts and judicial records—has changed hands quite often over the last three centuries, the most recent occurrence having been in 2007. Most often, the changes in custodianship have entailed changes in physical location, with the records’ having been transported a distance of anything from a few city blocks to a hundred miles. These peregrinations have for over two centuries compromised both the coherence of this priceless archive and the public’s ability to access it, and on too many occasions they have threatened its very existence.

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Medium 9781442271340

Curating Biocultural Collections: A Handbook

Collections Rowman & Littlefield Publishers ePub
by Jan Salick, Katie Konchar, and Mark Nesbitt, editors. Kew: Royal Botanic Gardens. 2014. 250 pp. ISBN 978-1-84246-498-4 Reviewed by Rose Kubiatowicz, Museum Consultant & Owner of Have Gloves Will Travel, LLC; rosekubi@earthlink.net In the past I worked with seed collections, ethnographic collections and ethnobio-logical products at the Science Museum of Minnesota where I developed Oh No! Ethnobotany, a program for the safe handling and storage of potentially hazardous ethnobotanical materials. Today, I work with a number of small history museums and private collections that contain ethnographic, ethnobiological products and ethnozoological collections. Thus, with great interest, I read Curating Biocultural Collections: A Handbook. Based upon my experiences, I have concluded that this book would be a valuable addition to any professional’s shelf of resource books. This volume illuminates a world of work, tradition, insight and foresight. It is a “go-to” book for both young professionals, who can turn to Curating Biocultural Collections: A Handbook for lucid, practical advice on the essentials of effective biocultural curation, and for experienced colleagues who will find it a rich compendium to enhance and refresh their knowledge, and rethink their assumptions. See All Chapters
Medium 9781442267619

Opinion

AltaMira Press ePub

Kiersten F. Latham

Emporia State University, formerly of Kansas Cosmosphere & Space Center

Have you seen the movie, “National Treasure”? If you can get past the silly plot and the terrible mishandling of the document, there is an enticing question lurking underneath the surface. Why does Nicholas Cage risk his life for a piece of paper (or, more correctly, parchment)? Well, we all know the answer—it’s THE Declaration of Independence! But, there are copies of it everywhere, are there not? We know what it says, so what more do we need it for? What is it about that document that makes it so special? Can other documents, even not-so-famous types, inspire such awe?

As a museum professional, and an object-oriented person, I often wonder if others share some of my thoughts about archives and manuscript collections. I have repeatedly been charged with caring for collections that contain both three-dimensional and two-dimensional materials, although my training and experience is mainly in object curation. To me, some (most) archives are more than just information. In a world that is moving away from “real” things to one filled with digital files, I am concerned about the loss of the physicality of these collections. I am especially concerned about the loss of respect and understanding surrounding places that hold the “real” things. Objects that are obvious retainers of meaning, such as the Declaration of Independence, require little argument to convince anyone of their importance. But what about collections that are not so obviously valuable? Do they inspire meaningful reflection? How do we know what material could hold such connections and does it need to be of national importance to ascribe it such symbolic value? This essay is an exploration about the meaning of archives, and specifically experience associated with, and unique to, archival material.

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Medium 9781442267763

Crossroads of Culture, Anthropology Collections at the Denver Museum of Science & Nature

AltaMira Press ePub

by Chip Colwell-Chanthaphonh, Stephen E. Nash, and Stephen R. Holen. Boulder, CO: The University Press of Colorado, 2010. 174 pp. ISBN 978-1-60732-024-1

Reviewed by Deborah Rose Van Horn, Registrar, Kentucky Historical Society, 100 W. Broadway, Frankfort, KY 40601; email: deborah.vanhorn@ky.gov

The book, Crossroads of Culture, Anthropology Collections at the Denver Museum of Science & Nature, is an overview of the museum’s Anthropology collections. The authors provide their audience with a brief history of the institution, the history of the Anthropology collections and a look at where the Denver Museum of Science & Nature intends to take its Anthropology collections in the future. This synopsis is enhanced by beautiful color photographs and first-person narratives by collections stakeholders.

The authors begin with a brief history of that institution and the goals of this publication. The main focus of the volume is to introduce the Anthropology collections to a wider audience. As part of this process, the authors provide information about and access to the collections through the volume. According to the authors, only one percent of the museum’s holdings are on exhibit at any time and only a fraction of this percentage is the Anthropology collections. This is why they have chosen to publish this volume and provide access to the materials in the collection in this way. They proceed to do a departmental breakdown of the Anthropology collections including the history of the departments, the scopes of the anthropology collections, and future goals for that department.

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Medium 9781442267718

A Letter from the Editor

AltaMira Press ePub

One of the premier venues for collections professionals to gather, the American Association of Museum’s Annual Meeting will be held in Los Angeles in May 2010. This year’s theme “Where Ideas Live!” sounds more like a tagline for an exciting avatar-centered game rather than a conference call. I can’t say that I blame the AAM for this creative branding. As readers of this journal are well aware, museums and archives are living entities rather than static, monolithic institutions. Faced with layoffs, reassignments, and other cost-cutting measures, collecting institutions feel the burden of pressure to contend with budget-saving measures including staff freezes, curtailed print and media funds, and reductions in programming, as well as acquisitions. Economics aside, cultural and political issues also threaten collections.

A call to action is in order. As museum and archives professionals, we must maintain our standards and move beyond essential preservation and access schemes to lunge forward, to incorporate, and even compensate for, new interventions. Given that collections are places where ideas live (rather than decay, deteriorate, or die), how do we engage this malleable nature? To what extent is it possible to serve as good stewards of our collections?

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Medium 9781442267671

Articles

AltaMira Press ePub

Rose Kubiatowicz

Museum Associate, Science Museum of Minnesota and Registrar, Minnesota Historical Society, 2593 Sumac Ridge, White Bear Lake, MN 55110. Email: rosekubi@earthlink.net

Abstract     Pharmacologically active natu ral prod ucts including toxins can survivein ethnobotanical objects stored long-term and can remain stable in quantities great enough to represent a potential hazard to museum personnel. In April 2006, twenty-one samples from suspected hazardous ethnobotanical objects identified by the Science Museum of Minnesota’s Oh No! Ethnobotany program (Kubiatowicz and Benson 2003), ranging in age from twenty-five to one-hundred-fourteen-years old, underwent organ ic residue analysis using gas and liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry. Samples were taken from the following objects: cu rare-tipped darts, poison-tipped arrows, barbasco vine, ayahuasca branches, yoco vine, opium pipe, kava roots, tobacco cigar, tobacco plug, clavo huasca vine, quinine branch, Precatory pea seed, Ceylon drug bundles and a Tibetan altar bottle. Pharmacologically active natural products were identified in twelve of twenty samples tested (60%). The toxin tubocurarine was identified in four of six curare samples in quantities great enough to represent a potential hazard to museum personnel.

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Medium 9781442267596

Long after the War is Over, the Controversy Remains: Looting of Cultural Properties by the Nazis during Word War II

AltaMira Press ePub

Patricia VanRollins

Recent Graduate, University of Iowa School of Law, 241 Lexington Avenue, Iowa City, IA 52246 (pvanrollins@msn.com).

AbstractThis article reviews Nazi confiscations during World War II, focusing on three major points: 1) the theory and rational behind the confiscations; 2) the laws enabling the seizure of property; and 3) the organizations and people responsible for the looting. The story of Maria Altmann illustrates the complexity of international laws involved in recovering looted art works. Altmann v. Austria is a landmark case because it was the first of its kind to reach the U. S. Supreme Court. In January 2006, Mrs. Altmann agreed to binding arbitration in Austria; the three judges unanimously awarded her 5 of the 6 paintings by Gustav Klimt to which she is heir. In late March 2006, the paintings arrived in Los Angeles where the most famous of the paintings, Adele Bloch-Bauer I was placed on display in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

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Medium 9781442267664

Into the New Millennium and Out of the Ordinary: The Development of Millennium Park

AltaMira Press ePub

Rachel Brewer

Director of Galleries and Curator of Collections, Georgetown College, 400 East College St, Georgetown, KY 40324. Email: rachel_brewer@georgetowncollege.edu

Abstract     Millennium Park is Chicago’s newest park and cultural arena. An entirely privately funded public space, the park is an i ntricate combination of art, architecture, landscape design, and performing art spaces. It is fitting that one objective of the park was to celebrate the arrival of the new m illennium, for, in creating Millennium Park, the city of Chicago has truly surpassed the examples that came before. This article examines the collection of art, architecture, and green space that makes up the revolutionary public space, Millennium Park. The history, present, and future of Millennium Park are described in conjunction with an examination of each individual element of the collection. These elements include the Jay Pritzker Pavilion, BP Bridge, Lurie Garden, Cloud Gate, Boeing Galleries, Crown Fountain, McCormick Tribune Plaza, Wrigley Square, Millennium Monument, Exelon Pavilions, Harris Theater for Music and Dance, and McDonald’s Cycle Center.

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Medium 9781442267671

A Letter from the Publisher

AltaMira Press ePub

As the Publisher of Collections, AltaMira Press would like to welcome Dr. Juilee Decker as the journal’s new editor. Juilee earned a Ph.D. in art history at Case Western Reserve University in 2003, and she is now associate professor of art history at Georgetown College, in Kentucky. Her interests include art history and methodologies, women and art, psychology and art, printmaking and design, and curatorial methods and practices. She has served as curator for a variety of exhibitions and as guest editor of the Spring and Summer 2008 issues of Collections (volumes 4:2 and 4:3), which focused on public art.

Outgoing editor Pamela White has made a valuable contribution to Collections over the past two years, and we thank her for her service. Pam will now devote all her time to her academic duties at the University of Iowa and her responsibilities as interim director of the University of Iowa Museum of Art, which sustained severe damage during this summer’s floods. We would also like to thank assistant editor Elisa Ewing, who managed to keep Collectionsmoving while disaster struck in Iowa.

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Medium 9781442267824

The Role of Museums in the Illegal Antiquities Market

AltaMira Press ePub

Michelle D’lppolito

University of Maryland, College Park, MD 20740; email: mrdippolito@gmail.com

Abstract The ability of investigative agencies like Interpol and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to effectively recover stolen works of art depends in part on how comprehensive and complete their databases of stolen works are. The scope of these databases and their effectiveness in recovering artwork depends on how many reports of theft are submitted by museums to the investigative agencies. This paper considers how a lack of funding leads to discrepancies in and between museum collection records and databases maintained by investigative agencies, resulting in negative publicity and affect a museum’s public image. Ultimately this paper presents some strategies to mitigate these discrepancies and help deter future museum theft by streamlining the investigation process for agencies like Interpol and the FBI.

On October 7, 2010, police in Landskrona, Sweden discovered three stolen paintings during a raid in a credit card fraud case. The paintings were found in plastic bags each with a label identifying it as belonging to the Malmö Museum of Art (Durney 2010). These labels matched the records the museum had for the paintings (Durney 2010). The police contacted the museum and informed them of the find. According to Goren Christenson, the director of the museum, the paintings had been taken down to be put in storage two weeks prior to the raid (Associated Press 2010; CBC 2010; TT 2010). They had been unaware that anything was missing until the police contacted them; their records still had them listed as being in storage (Anonymous 2010; Associated Press 2010). News articles covering the theft and recovery of the paintings dealt primarily with the fact that the museum was unaware of their absence. The day of the recovery, headings such as “Munch stolen in Sweden and nobody notices” from the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) (2010) and “Museum in Sweden unaware of theft of Munch painting, artwork recovered” by the Star Tribune (2010) cast the museum in a negative light. While eventually reports of arrests prompted the museum to receive funding to help increase their security measures, initial reports characterized the museum as inattentive rather than as a victim. Little to no information was originally given regarding the theft of the artwork or who stole it (Associated Press 2010). Since the recovery of the three paintings, three men have been arrested and convicted of theft and of receiving and handling stolen goods (TT 2010). According to The Local, the thief “found” the paintings by a wharf next to the museum and assumed they were being discarded (2010). Whether or not this is an accurate reflection of the events, it demonstrates that there was a discrepancy between the actual locations of the paintings and where the museum thought them to be located.

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Medium 9781442267763

Do Museums Still Need Objects?

AltaMira Press ePub

by Steven Conn. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2010. 262 pp. ISBN: 978-0-8122-4190-7

Reviewed by Kimberly Rhodes, Associate Professor of Art History and Director, New York Semester on Contemporary Art, Drew University, Madison, New Jersey, 07940 phone: 973-327-2292; email: krhodes@drew.edu

Steven Conn’s response to the titular question of his provocative text, a collection of six loosely related essays, is a melancholy yes: “Museums — some of them anyway — may not need objects anymore, but without objects we all miss the delights and surprises that come with looking.” (57) The author’s commitment to objects stems from at least two of his primary motives for discussing, albeit diffusely, the current state of museum practice and studies in the United States. First, to provide an inclusive discussion of museums that encompasses institutions devoted to art, natural history, history, and science and thereby demonstrates their overlapping functions and concerns. Second, to promote a renewed humanistic vision of museums as public spaces that perpetuate civic duty through shared experiences of “objects,” what Conn calls “object-based epistemology.” In his introduction, Conn positions the latter imperative as a direct challenge to what he believes to be the recent textual and cynical turn in museum studies perpetuated by scholars employing poststructuralist theory to interrogate the histories and ideologies of museums. While it is useful for Conn to initiate a dialogue about the utility of various approaches to the study of museums in the United States, some readers may be irked by the author’s derisive attitude toward theory and disappointed that he does not fully examine the changing status of the “object,” especially in the visual arts. By extension, the author does not consider the role of technology and our twenty-first century immersion in the virtual world in diminishing the significance of the material world for institutions and audiences.

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Medium 9781442267930

Preserving and Accessing the Howard D. Beach Photography Studio Glass Plate Negative Collection

Rowman & Littlefield Publishers ePub

Cynthia A. Conides

Associate Professor and Director Museum Studies, SUNY Buffalo State, Department of History & Social Studies Education, 1300 Elmwood Avenue, Buffalo, NY; email: conideca@buffalostate.edu

Abstract    In 2011, the Buffalo & Erie County Historical Society (now The Buffalo History Museum), acquired a significant but environmentally challenged collection of dry gelatin glass-plate negatives from the former Howard D. Beach Photography Studio, located in downtown Buffalo, NY. Numbering over 57,000 individual plates of varying sizes, the collection comes from the last extant commercial portrait studio that operated during Buffalo’s golden era (1880-1950). In a career that spanned nearly 70 years, Beach held an international reputation as a portrait artist and made significant contributions to the field of photography, including the invention of soft-focus portrait lenses that are still in use today. Yet, his work remains relatively unknown. The glass plates were stored in less than ideal conditions for nearly eighty years. The cost and time involved for staffing, cleaning, re-housing, and storing a collection of this size poses a significant challenge to a museum with limited personnel and resources, yet wishing to preserve and present an extensive though significant historical collection relevant to the community and to the institution ’s mission. Presented is a brief history of the studio, and current efforts to salvage this collection. It outlines strategies for preservation and highlights the advantages of collaboration with an institution of higher education in this effort.

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Medium 9781442267794

Critical Approaches to the Curator

AltaMira Press ePub

Abstract Surveys a broad range of approaches to the figure of the curator, including medieval precedents found in illuminated manuscripts (Serrano), new takes on nineteenth-century roles and debates over what “curating” meant in the early twentieth century (McTavish), and critiques of Okwui Enwezor, who arguably embodies the contemporary notion of the global curator (Ogbechie).

Nhora Lucía Serrano

Comparative Literature, California State University—Long Beach

In 1998 Michael Brenson proclaimed that the era of the curator had begun. Brenson defined the “curator” as someone who “work[s] across cultures and [is] able to think imaginatively about the points of compatibility and conflict among them” because the task of the curator is to “be able to communicate not only with artists but also with community leaders … and heads of state.”1 This model of the curator as a socio-political envoy, however, is not new or modern. It can be seen in medieval illuminated manuscripts in which representations of monarchs and royal counselors function similarly to Brenson’s definition of a curator. Alfonso X, el Sabio’s Cantigas de Santa María (1221–1284) and Christine de Pizan’s Epistre Othéa (1400) are two such manuscripts in which their richly-adorned portraits attest that there were political historiographers and cultural guides concerned with how history is read and preserved. But it is more than their mere presence that equates these miniatures as portraits of a curator; it is their gesturing hands so carefully painted and aptly directing the gaze to the visual narrative of the page that establish their exhibitionary aim, to shape and instill portraits of legitimate kings and strong empires.

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Medium 9781442267794

KEYNOTE The Times of the Curator

AltaMira Press ePub

History of Consciousness, University of California—Santa Cruz

“The Times of the Curator”… My title evokes two senses of temporality:

I’ll be speaking of both. My concern is the discrepant temporalities (sometimes I want to say “histories,” or even “futures”) that are integral to the task of the curator today.

“The task of the curator.” I like the conference title chosen by Lucian Gomoll and Lissette Olivares because of its invocation of Walter Benjamin and the problematic of translation, which in his famous essay, “The Task of the Translator,” is fundamentally a temporal and open-ended process. For Benjamin, of course, the discordant times of the past would be activated and “made new” by a critical-materialist form of historicizing that could challenge and open up closed narratives, the inevitable realisms of the victors.

I believe that what’s going on today in museums has the potential to make this kind of critical intervention. For the museum is an inventive, globally, and locally translated form, no longer anchored to its modern origins in Europe. Contemporary curatorial work, in the excessive times of decolonization and globalization, by engaging with discrepant temporalities—not resisting, or homogenizing, their inescapable friction—has the potential to open up common-sense, “given” histories. It does so under serious constraints, a push and pull of material forces and ideological legacies it cannot evade.

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