Maybe Elsa was right…


When this picture was taken it was his first day on the job. He explained to us that his garb was representative of what was worn by both Native Peoples, as well as coureur de bois, the Europeans who lived among them as trappers and woodsmen. I offer this tidbit because as Koloski notes that these sort of interactive “performances” made “history/science more fun and interesting” (274). It definitely did for two of my four daughters who not only swooned while he was talking to us, but forced me to take that picture, and returned to his post several times through the afternoon we were there.

A large part of the assigned reading centered around the idea of having an artist in residence at a historical museum. I know several artists, and know that they can be difficult to deal with at times, because some of them believe that they are geniuses, that they could walk on water if they so chose to, and that their idea of art is the only true measure of it. And it is possible that this is the position that some museums have found themselves in. Now mix in a curatorial staff that also believes that they are geniuses, that the artifacts they are entrusted with are theirs, and their interpretation is the only true interpretation of them. Sprinkle in the questions of funding, and other capitalistic nonsense, and you have a recipe for disaster. Unless everyone is willing to talk, discuss their ideas, and what they want to get out of the exhibit.

I fail to grasp the inclusion of a never-before-seen episode of Sanford and Son. Was it included to be a counterpoint to the general acceptance of StoryCorps? StoryCorps offers a heavily edited message aimed at a specific (NPR/PBS) audience. Similarly Sanford and Son was also aimed at an audience. I think where we as a society have progressed (or maybe we haven’t) is that the Sanford and Son episode is included here, as are the excerpts of StoryCorps that are deemed too risqu√© for general consumption.

Initial thoughts about public history as discussed in “Letting Go?”

It would seem that the relationship between curator and consumer, expert and audience, museum staff and museum goer is a contentious one. This is especially true if you were to believe Matthew Fisher. While being interviewed by Bill Adair, Fisher paraphrases Duchamp, saying that artists and spectators collaborate, meaning that the viewer is as important as the artifact that is on display. Perhaps it is my age and disposition, but I enjoy a quiet, dry, dull, non-interactive exhibit. But I can see the desire to make museums more “friendly” for the internet generations. I do not, however, feel that the museum experience needs to be similar to my online shopping experiences. Fisher states “if museums don’t embrace these new paradigms (Web 2.0 ie. tagging, commenting, blogging) they are in danger of becoming irrelevant” (50). I do not think that irrelevance is the most important problem facing museums. It is a lack of funding that the Humanities, in all shapes and sizes, have everywhere. Fisher seems to claim the only way to solve that is to develop a “creative relationship between objects and visitors” (47), but I think treating the museum experience like a YouTube channel cheapens the experience for everyone else.

I see the need, as was voiced in the article written by Kathleen McLean, to be more inclusive of under-represented viewpoints. She describes the way the Oakland Museum of California (OMCA) sought the advice of their Native Advisory Council. When it came time to create a new exhibit, instead of using the traditional anthropological perspectives, they built the exhibit around what “our Native partners thought most important” (74). ¬†Additionally, there is the example of the Minnesota Historical Society, who asked for film submissions. One of these submissions, in the words of the film maker said “In the end, my attitude toward the History Center changed. … I was not a consumer demanding to be entertained, but a part of it” (106). And that is an outcome I think that all of us would want every one to have…