250 Articles
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Medium 9781442265790

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

Rowman & Littlefield Publishers 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 9781442265790

Digital Preservation for Libraries, Archives, and Museums

Rowman & Littlefield Publishers 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 9781442276147

More Than Merely Transcription

Collections; Juilee Decker Rowman & Littlefield Publishers ePub

More Than Merely TranscriptionAn Analysis of Metatasks and Twitter ChatChristine RosenfeldPh.D. candidate in Cultural Studies at George Mason University, crosenfe@gmu.eduAbstract This article seeks to understand the practices that digital volunteers of the Smithsonian’s Transcription Center (TC) engage in aside from transcribing. A thematic analysis of the Twitter feed @TranscribeSI demonstrates that volunteers are doing much more than just transcribing; they are additionally engaging in critical archival practices regarding reflexivity and filling in gaps in the historical record. Museums that hope to foster deep engagement among volunteers and to create a sustained community of virtual museumgoers may wish to model their digital initiatives on those of the TC. Doing so will ensure that museums move beyond mere data extraction toward building complex relationships with audiences through online initiatives. As a result of Web 2.0 technologies, museums in the 21st century are undergoing a transformation in the way that they produce and disseminate knowledge. Mancini and Carreras (2010) write that “new [museum] users do not only consume, they also want to be involved and to model their environment, creating social and cultural values for themselves and rejecting hierarchical structures” (60), which requires museums to decide whether to integrate user-generated knowledge into their archive, mission, structure, and workflow. For the purposes of this article, Web 2.0 refers to “the practice of getting users to add value to a website by having them build its content, thus accelerating the cycle of media production so that sites become dynamic, constantly updated sources of new material” (Gehl 2014, 47). Web 2.0 has exerted pressure on museums of the 21st century to switch from being institutions of memory to dynamic social spaces (Kelly 2010; Mancini and Carreras 2010). The Smithsonian Institution (SI) is beginning to embody the dynamic social space that characterizes contemporary museums (Kalfatovic et al. 2008). This movement is demonstrated by the Transcription Center (TC), an online digital space where volunteers transcribe and review other volunteers’ transcriptions of historical materials.

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Medium 9781442276147

Showcasing Collections from a Community Museum

Collections; Juilee Decker Rowman & Littlefield Publishers ePub

Showcasing Collections from a Community Museum

Jennifer Morris

Archivist, Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum, morrisj@si.edu

Abstract Crowdsourcing cultural heritage materials presents opportunities and challenges for archives and museums. Successful engagement with collections through crowdsourcing initiatives requires mindful planning and careful selection of materials. This article presents the Anacostia Community Museum’s experience with the Smithsonian TC and details the museum’s efforts to gather and highlight additional data pertaining to its collection. After providing a brief history of the museum, the article describes the processes undertaken by the collections and curatorial staff for selecting projects, which were informed by exhibitions, reference services, and the museum’s mission. Next, the workflow and challenges faced by the museum are discussed before turning to recommendations for improvement.

In recent years, museums, archives, historic societies, and other repositories of cultural heritage began using their digitized collections to engage with the general public, special interest groups, and their core constituencies by means of crowdsourcing. Regardless of the methods employed by organizations—such as transcription, tagging, indexing, or identifying content—crowdsourcing initiatives present “a powerful platform for audience interaction with museums, offering truly deep and valuable engagement with cultural heritage” (Ridge 2013, 446). These projects offer opportunities for cultural heritage institutions to tackle backlogs, provide access to minimally processed collections, and increase discoverability of unique and rare resources (Zastrow 2014, 21). Some challenges for repositories considering crowdsourcing include implementing and maintaining a functional technological infrastructure, management of digital volunteers, and assuring the quality of the data being generated (Zastrow 2014, 23). Additionally, repositories may have a mismatch between the human capital, on the part of staff, to sustain a crowdsourcing initiative and how to meet institutional goals. The Anacostia Community Museum (ACM) considered these issues before deciding to become a participating unit in the Smithsonian Transcription Center (TC).

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Medium 9781442267923

Fossils, Federal Lands, and the Public Interest: Legal Issues and Challenges Facing Collectors, Scholars, and Museums

Collections; Juilee Decker Rowman & Littlefield Publishers ePub

Susan E. Leib

3026 Sycamore Lane, Milan, IL 61264; email: leib.susan@gmail.com

Abstract    One of the greatest challenges of fossil collecting relates to location. Recent issues regarding the discovery, sale, and donation of fossils (particularly dinosaur fossils) have led to the realization that better laws must be put into place to protect paleontological specimens. As many natural history museums contain unique paleontological specimens, understanding the rules and regulations of ownership currently in place may help to dispel future problems.

As one of my geology professors used to say, “The rocks are where the rocks are.” The rocks you are looking for are never in a convenient place; they cannot come to you, you must go to them. Of course, it is always more convenient when the outcrop of choice is located on public land, easily accessible to anyone who is interested in further study. However, issues arise when fossil hunters, both amateur and professional, do not obtain a permit for collecting fossils, or simply do not realize the repercussion of collecting illegally in a certain area.

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Medium 9781442267923

From the Editor

Collections; Juilee Decker Rowman & Littlefield Publishers ePub

On June 17, 2014, William Holman Hunt’s Isabella and the Pot of Basil (1868) was sold at Christie’s for $4.25 million. The sales catalogue noted that the proceeds were to “benefit the Delaware Art Museum.” Such a purpose seems altruistic: who wouldn’t want the sale of a painting to benefit an art museum? A problem arises when the current owner of the painting is the museum that the painting’s sale would ultimately benefit. Specifically, the funds raised from the sale of Isabella were intended to repay $19.8 million of debt from a 2005 facilities expansion of the Delaware Art Museum and to replenish the institution’s endowment. Bringing in only a half of the estimated valuation, other works would clearly need to be sold so that the debts could be paid and cash could be shored up.

Perhaps the subject of the painting itself foretells of the museum’s own fate: Isabella, the tragic heroine of John Keats’ poem on which the painting is based, is depicted by Hunt as tending obsessively to a pot of basil that contains the remains of her beloved. Has the museum, with its handsome collections, though humble financial standing, ultimately been killed just as Lorenzo was murdered by Isabella’s brothers who sought a more stable foundation for their sibling?

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Medium 9781442276147

Great Expectations

Collections; Juilee Decker Rowman & Littlefield Publishers ePub

Great ExpectationsMeeting the Needs of Online Audiences at the Archives Center of the National Museum of American HistoryJoe HurseyArchivist, Archives Center, National Museum of American History, hurseyw@si.eduRobert HortonChair, Archives Center, National Museum of American History, hortonr@si.eduAbstract The Archives Center of the National Museum of American History collects, preserves, and provides access to archival documents that support the museum’s mission, exhibitions, research, and collecting programs. The Archives Center holds more than 1,350 collections that document the history of technology, innovation, business, consumer culture, American music, and popular culture as well as many other topics. In addition, it supports the Smithsonian’s digital initiatives by digitizing collections and making them available online, which in many ways is a challenge. This article outlines the Archives Center’s involvement with the Smithsonian Transcription Center, the creation and evaluation of a pilot project, and the construction of an effective digital workflow.

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Medium 9781442265790

Archivist Meets Historian

Collections; Juilee Decker Rowman & Littlefield Publishers ePub

Greg Lambousy and Emily Clark

The guest editors of this issue, Emily Clark and Greg Lambousy, thought that the best way to close this issue would be to give readers a direct experience of the give-and-take that has come to characterize their professional interactions over the years. Late last year, they sat down together in a corner of the Old U.S. Mint on the edge of the French Quarter in New Orleans for the conversation below.

Emily Clark: Today is the day before Halloween, October 30, 2014. It’s an appropriate time to be in an old building in New Orleans.

Greg, we know each other really well now. We collaborate on projects and it’s hard to remember a time when that wasn’t the case. I feel like the Louisiana State Museum and especially the Colonial Documents Project has become a big part of my professional life, but that hasn’t always been the case. Academic historians, people who manage collections, and archivists have not always been in close contact with each other. We haven’t always understood what one another did. Sometimes we’ve felt like we’ve been at cross purposes. So I thought it would be fun to talk about early experiences when we each encountered the person who did the other job, and what that was like and what that first impression was like. I am happy to go first because I think I’m older!

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Medium 9781442267794

Critical Approaches to the Curator

Collections; Juilee Decker 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 9781442267862

Narrating Objects, Collecting Stories: Essays in Honour of Professor Susan M. Pearce Edited by Sandra H. Dudley, Amy Jane Barnes, Jennifer Binnie, Julia Petrov, and Jennifer Walklate

Collections; Juilee Decker AltaMira Press ePub

Edited by Sandra H. Dudley, Amy Jane Barnes, Jennifer Binnie, Julia Petrov, and Jennifer Walklate. Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon; New York: Routledge, 2012. 286 pages. ISBN 978-0-415-69271-7

Reviewed by David B. Wagner, PhD candidate, Public History, University of California, Riverside, CA; email: dwagn001@ucr.edu

Narrating Objects, Collecting Stories is an edited volume in honour of Susan Pearce, who has been a luminary in the study of material culture and museums throughout the last three decades. The essays compiled and edited by Sandra H. Dudley do Pearce’s work justice. The contributions follow in the tradition of Daniel Miller’s The Comfort of Things (2008) in their use of objects to tell stories, all the while mixing in some of the more revolutionary ideas about object agency and the boundaries between people and objects along the lines of Jane Bennett, and including a number of object biographies along the lines of Arjun Appadurai. The result is a volume that well-represents the state of research on material culture.

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Medium 9781442267794

KEYNOTE The Times of the Curator

Collections; Juilee Decker 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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Medium 9781442267794

Special Events

Collections; Juilee Decker AltaMira Press ePub

Anthony Torres

Independent Curator, San Francisco

The Question is Known: (W)here is Latin American/Latino Art? (April-May 2008) was conceived as a self-reflexive cultural intervention that brought together multiple interests of artists, scholars, collectors, galleries, and cultural institutions, each with diverse needs and agendas. The exhibition aimed to interrogate the significance of Latin American and Latino art by problematizing, reformulating, and representing “Latin American/Latino Art" as an ideological construct that has subsumed the complexity and diversity of art practices by a range of artists.

Through the works in the exhibition, The Question is Known explored the significance of Latin American/Latino art as not “natural” or given, but rather, a hybrid of cultural creations that are fluid and mobile, established by contact, conflict, experience, sympathetic issue identification, and fantasy constructions, often constituted as living sources of inspiration, articulated through iconography, formal vocabularies, and personal associations. The exhibition was concerned with making what should be a simple and obvious statement—that Latino artists and art practices are diverse—as a means of countering characterizations that “essentialize” a range of practices done by Latino artists.

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Medium 9781442267763

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

Collections; Juilee Decker 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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Welcome New Editorial Board Members

Collections; Juilee Decker AltaMira Press ePub

As a peer-reviewed, quarterly publication from AltaMira Press, Collections offers a platform for research, dialogue, and reportage among professionals — at every stage. The journal strives to offer professional guidance and theoretical grounding drawn from fields such as anthropology, art history, cultural studies, ethnobotany, history, conservation, law, life science, museum studies, and library science.

The publication process is a collaborative venture: the Editor; AltaMira Press and its parent company, Rowman and Littlefield; and authors contribute to and benefit from the journal in a range of capacities. Additionally, the Editorial Board plays a key role in the publication process and the success of the journal. Working closely with me in my role as editor of the journal, board members will help to achieve the journal’s mission and, moreover, contribute to the journal in a variety of ways. Key among these are peer review and guest editorship. In addition, members of the Editorial Board develop concepts for themed issues of the journal; encourage submissions from a range of museum and archives professionals; identify books, symposia, conferences, and projects for review or proceedings publication; assist the editor in keeping abreast of trends and issues in the field; and broaden the discourse about collections to our national and international readership. Names of the Editorial Board are proudly featured on the journal’s website and in each issue of the journal.

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Medium 9781442267763

Museums in a Troubled World: Renewal, Irrelevance or Collapse?

Collections; Juilee Decker AltaMira Press ePub

by Robert R. Janes. From the Museum Meanings Series. London and New York: Routledge, 2009. 208 pp. ISBN: 978-0-415-46300-3

Reviewed by Anna Heineman, Adjunct Professor of Art History, University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida; FAD 233, School of Art + Art History, PO Box 115801, Gainesville, FL 32611; (641) 990-0950; email: anna.m.heineman@gmail.com

Museums today face issues of relevance, social and economic issues, and funding like never before. Robert R. Janes, museum professional of thirty-five years, detailed the growing challenges for museums in his book entitled, Museums in a Troubled World: Renewal, Irrelevance or Collapse? Throughout the book, Janes analyzes the importance of museums, yet explores their struggle of remaining relevant in a time of environmental and economic change. Janes’s highly pointed, yet well researched perspectives and suggestions come from his nearly four decades of work as a museum director, author, consultant, editor, board member, and volunteer. This insider’s perspective guides readers — both museum professionals and attendees — to help steer museums back on a relevant path.

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