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DepositArt and Fetish in the Anthropolgy Museum

Sónia Silva is an Associate Professor of anthropology at Skidmore College. Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork in Zambia, as well as museum work in Europe and the USA, Silva’s research deals with materiality, material religion, the notion of the fetish, ritual and religion, divination, witchcraft, violence, and museums. Silva is the author of Along an African Border: Angolan Refugees and Their Divination Baskets (Penn Press 2011).ssilva@skidmore.edu ABSTRACT Between the 1920s and early 1980s an increasing number of African art exhibitions opened to the public in Western Europe and North America. In these exhibitions African religious objects such as masks and wooden figurines were reframed as modern-ist art. Focusing on the illustrative case of the National Ethnolo-gy Museum in Lisbon, Portugal, this article shows that these Afri-can art exhibitions offered a powerful alternative to the colonial, religious concept of the fetish. Early scholars of comparative re-ligion claimed that the primitive fetish worshippers were unable to grasp the idea of transcendence. By elevating African religious objects (the so-called fetishes) to the transcendental realm of modernist art, curators of African art helped dispel the colonial concept of the fetish, and change mindsets and worldviews. In their struggle against the notion of the fetish, these curators also engaged with the concepts of art, culture and religion. Mounted on pedestals and bathed by light, the African religious objects became modernist cult objects: cultural artifacts elevated to a higher plane of religious and aesthetic spirituality.

DepositMobile Museum Initiative

The Center for Public History + Digital Humanities (CPHDH) and the Ohio Historical Society seek NEH Level II Start-Up support for the Mobile Museum Initiative (MMI) to extend our understanding of best interpretive and technological practices for mobile interpretation in museum settings. MMI innovates both in technology and interpretive humanities practice. On the interpretive side, the project proposes to challenge the conventional approach to app deployment in museum settings that is built around museum navigation and pays little attention to visitor usage patterns. We will be recommending an interpretive practice that emphasizes connectivity between objects around themes, ideas, and chronologies. In addition, we will emphasize the foregrounding of visitor studies as a significant part of the design and deployment of mobile applications. On the technology side, CPHDH will work to release a beta version Curatescape Museums an open-source (and, optionally, hosted) software application.

DepositEnhancing Museum Narratives: Tales of Things and UCL’s Grant Museum

Emergent mobile technologies offer museum professionals new ways of engaging visitors with their collections. Museums are powerful learning environments and mobile technology can enable visitors to experience the narratives in museum objects and galleries and integrate them with their own personal reflections and interpretations. UCL‟s QRator project is exploring how handheld mobile devices and interactive digital labels can create new models for public engagement, personal meaning making and the construction of narrative opportunities inside museum spaces. The use of narrative in museums has long been recognised as a powerful communication technique to engage visitors and to explore the different kinds of learning and participation that result. Many museums make extensive use of narrative, or storytelling, as a learning, interpretive, and meaning making tool. This chapter discusses the potential for mobile technologies to connect museums to audiences through co-creation of narratives, taking the QRator project as a case study. The QRator project aims to stress the necessity of engaging visitors actively in the creation of their own interpretations of museum collections through the integration of QR codes, iPhone, iPad, and Android apps into UCL‟s Grant Museum of Zoology. Although this chapter will concentrate on mobile technology created for a natural history museum, issues of meaning making and narrative creation through mobile technology are applicable to any discipline. In the first instance, the concern is with the development of mobile media in museums followed by a discussion of the QRator project which stresses the opportunities and challenges in utilizing mobile technology to enhance visitor meaning making and narrative construction. Finally, this chapter discusses the extent to which mobile technologies might be used purposefully to transform institutional cultures, practices and relationships with visitors.

DepositMilwaukee Public Museum Cultural Collections Master Plan

The Milwaukee Public Museum will develop a master plan for the collections stored in the basement of the museum’s building. This includes the ethnology and archeology collections, the history collection, the lantern slide collection, as well as the museum’s collection vault. Currently, these collections are in conditions that are subpar, with temperatures that remain consistent but humidity that fluctuates daily and by season. The master plan will establish realistic environmental criteria on a room-by-room basis, determine how collections with similar needs can be co-located, and develop a program for improvements to the basement envelope based on actual environmental needs of specific co-located collections. In addition, the master plan will identify appropriate and space efficient storage units for each area based on actual environmental needs of the specific collections. All of these requirements are consistent with the museum’s Sustainability Policy and Plan.

DepositCoCensus: Collaboration Exploration of Census Data in a Museum

Museums play a role in American intellectual life as places for members of the public to gather, learn, and engage in discourse about human experience and knowledge (Conn, 1998). As cultural and historical research is informed by increasingly complex information, museums can support visitor discourse around such complex data. To this end, we will construct a prototype museum exhibit, CoCensus, at the Jane Addams Hull-House Museum, using an innovative combination of an ambient data map display and RFID technology to allow visitors to interact with dynamic visualizations of census data on a local map. This innovative design will enable multiple visitors to cooperatively investigate and discuss complex data and the personal dimensions of American identity. This work highlights important issues for designing public educational spaces to support collaborative data visualization, and take steps towards making large digital resources accessible within the social learning milieu of museums.

DepositDeveloping a Master Preservation Plan for Collections at the Museum of History and Art

The museum’s staff requests a planning grant to engage representative city officials and a team of three consultants–a conservator, environmental management specialist, and historic preservation architect–to develop a Master Preservation Plan for Collections. The museum’s collections are currently housed in a designated historic building constructed in 1937 by the Works Progress Administration. The preservation plan would focus on collaboratively developed strategies to balance collections needs and vulnerabilities with the performance capacity of the historic building envelope. Project staff would employ appropriate passive and active measures to mitigate risks to stored collections by determining reasonably achievable targets for collections environments. The plan would also propose solutions that would be energy and cost efficient; respect the historic fabric of the museum and a possible second 1950s-era building designated for future museum use; and make efficient use of available storage spaces.