“Everywhen” at the Harvard Art Museums

Everywhen: The Eternal Present in Indigenous Art from Australia

I had originally started this post as something more rigid and defined. It was a review, an art review, something I’ve really never written in my life and don’t think I’d be very good at if I tried. When I stepped away from my computer and went outside with my notebook, and really thought about how the art on display in Everywhen spoke to me, how it elicited reactions within me, I realized that there’s no point to writing a review of this exhibit, or any exhibit for that matter. Not for me, anyway. Instead, this is a reaction, from my point of view.

Everywhen: The Eternal Present in Indigenous Art from Australia, is the new exhibit at the Harvard Art Museums, and it opens to the public this Friday, February 5th. If you can, I’d suggest heading to the opening reception on Thursday evening, and you might get a chance to go to the opening lecture, a conversation between Stephen Gilchrist and artist Vernon Ah Kee. Everywhen has been guest curated for HAM by Australian Studies Visiting Curator Stephen Gilchrist, an Indigenous Australian of the Yamatji people of the Inggarda language group of Western Australia. I’ve only ever met a handful of folks from Australia in my life, and none of them had ever identified as Indigenous, so to have Stephen give this tour was a real treat; knowing that he had curated the exhibit made it even better, because he has a deep connection to the art on display.

Gilchrist spoke of ancient narratives reinterpreted in abstract concepts, of connecting the past to the present to the future in a cyclical manner (the everywhen), of reimagining your way of being in the world and considering how you interact with it. The exhibit, he says, is an invitation to question how we discuss Indigenous art in the context of contemporary art today – is it other? Do we need to redefine art history? “This is not about rescuing indigenous art,” Gilchrist says. “We are indigenizing art history.”

For me, the most important aspect of the collection represented in Everywhen was the history. If you know me, you know that generally I don’t care for contemporary art; but if it is reinterpreting history, or expressing pain or grief or demanding justice for wrongs committed in the course of so-called “enterprise”, then I’m much more intrigued and open to understanding the artist’s interpretation of their own history (the last contemporary piece I wrote about was William Kentridge’s Refusal of Time).

20160201_144703674_iOSHistory cannot be separated from art, nor should it be. The Indigenous artworks on display in Everywhen are personal reactions to the events of the past; attempts to cross the divide between the present and what once way, spanning almost 40,000 years of history. Julie Gough’s piece Dark Valley, Van Diemen’s Land (2008) (at right) connects the artist, born in Tasmania and part of the Trawlwoolway language group, to her ancestor’s tradition of creating necklaces out of shells, reflecting the maritime culture of her people. The large chunks of coal tell the tale of Aboriginal exile and extermination, in the name of economy and progress; the story of The Black War hangs in the gallery, bringing back the voices of thousands of innocent victims slain in the name of industry.

IMG_5101Yhonnie Scarce’s The silence of others (series of six) (2014) (at left) is another piece that throws history in the viewer’s face, demanding to be remembered. Scarce uses yams as the shape of her blown glass trapped under bell jars. Each piece engraved with an archival number that represents one of her immediate family members; each of them treated as inhuman and “other” by having their body parts measured and catalogued as a taxonomical specimen (sound familiar?). The yams are representative of the Indigenous peoples’ affinity and connection with the natural world, and an attempt to remind us of the strength of that connection, as it flies in the face of colonization and Western “progress”.

It’s important to recognize that this is the first exhibition of its kind in the United States in 25 years. Narayan Khandekar of the Straus Center for Conservation pointed out to us in the gallery, as we looked at a bark painting by Manydjarri Ganambar, that up until recently there had been no technical studies of the materials used to create bark paintings. Narayan worked with art galleries and museums in Australia to study 200 samples of pigments and bark types to learn more about how contemporary Indigenous artists are using materials to connect with their ancestors and the past.

As a student of history, I think everyone should come to this exhibit and take the time to consider similar events that occurred in our own country’s history. Every piece on display in Everywhen tells a story; every brush stroke, every weave is entrenched in the history and ancestral narrative of the Indigenous peoples of Australia. The exhibition is an amazing opportunity to learn about the culture and history of a population I know very little about, and I recommend you visit often. I know I will.

Thanks to Becca Torres at the Harvard Art Museums for giving me the opportunity to join the press preview of Everywhen, and thank you to Stephen Gilchirst (Australian Studies Visiting Curator) and Narayan Khandekar (Director, Straus Center for Conservation and Technical Studies) for the tour of the gallery and the insights into the historical and technical aspects of working with the collection. Everywhen: The Eternal Present in Indigenous Art from Australia is on display at the Harvard Art Museums until September 18, 2016.

“Everywhen” at the Harvard Art Museums

Objects & Archaeology: Where Does the Story Take You?

Bow section of Ada K. Damon
Bow of the wreck. Site protected by law.

[This should have been posted MONTHS ago. Sorry for the delay!]

I feel pretty lucky to still be connected to some of my undergraduate professors. Not only have they become my friends, they let me know when something interesting is happening at Salem State. Back in March, I found out about the first-ever Maritime Archaeology Field School that would be held during a week in July. Holy crap was I stoked on this! I signed up as soon as it was possible.

The class was broken down into 2 days of classwork, and 3 days of field work. Our first day of field work was spent at the Friendship in the Salem Maritime National Historic Site, where we practiced taking offset measurements from a baseline, and learned a bit about the ship. This was also my first time ever being on that ship, even though I had lived in Salem for 3 years AND my roommate at one time used to work at that park site! It was awesome to be able to check out the ship and learn about her construction.

Day 2-4 was spent on site. We were working on Steep Hill Beach at the Crane Estate, which is managed by the Trustees of the Reservations. The wreck we were working on is most likely the Ada K. Damon, which was wrecked during a Christmas storm in 1909 while she was carrying sand from Plum Island to Pennsylvania. The story is really quite sad; the owner of the ship sunk all of his money into the ship, and she wrecked on her first voyage. That’s rough. You can still see the wreck if you visit the beach at low tide, but keep in mind that the site is protected by law, so please don’t try to take anything from it!

We dug, a lot. Day 3 it poured on and off for most of our time on the site, but that didn’t stop us from digging up the port side and taking offset measurements. In fact, I think day 3 was probably the best day; we all laughed through the rain, and really got to know each other while digging with the outgoing tide crashing against our backs. We had 3 instructors – Dr. Calvin Mires, Captain Laurel Seaborn, and MA State Underwater Archaeologist Victor Mastone – and 2 Ph.D students with us to help us take measurements while working around piles of sand and the fact that none of us had ever been on a dig before. We really had to work as a team to make sure our measurements were correct, we weren’t getting in each other’s way, but most importantly we were helping each other figure out what we didn’t understand (scale? huh?). While day 4 was a bit of a wash – incoming tide meant we took sketches of features on the starboard side before they were buried by the water – we DID get an awesome tour of the Crane Estate and learned how to do trilateration measurements. Day 5 we spent at school, creating a site map that will be kept in the public record. How cool is that!? Our work will be the basis of future research done at the site. So flippin’ sweet.

Working in museums and being a collections gal, something Calvin said on day 1 really stuck with me. He talked about what archaeology is and isn’t, but what he made clear was that “shipwrecks are stories about failure.” Shipwrecks are STORIES. He emphasized that archaeology is an examination of past human existence based on objects found at the site, and that maritime archaeology is concerned with all aspects of material culture. Wrecks are cool, but what can they tell us about the people involved with them? The time period? The culture? While this course focused primarily on the how-to’s of maritime archaeology, Calvin made sure we all understood that beneath it all, what is important is what we can learn about a person, a group, or a place from the wreck site and any artifacts found.

We didn’t find any artifacts. In fact, we were told on day one that we wouldn’t. This wreck has been buried for over a century, and had been picked over after wrecking for resources (wood, iron, etc.). But that didn’t diminish our insane enthusiasm for what we were doing. To be able to work on a site and become part of the site record, to be encouraged to dig deep and get messy, was an opportunity that doesn’t come around every day. It was a great learning experience and I think all of us came away from the dig with a better appreciation of the work that goes in to an archaeological dig, and that even the smallest, seemingly insignificant task contributes to the larger picture in a big way.

Office Lens 20151117-095501
Word cloud I sketched out during class over the summer. These are just some of the stories that can be connected back to one wreck.

Learn more about SEAMAHP and The PAST Foundation


Objects & Archaeology: Where Does the Story Take You?

Thoughts on History Museums

I like to keep my work life — my museum life — separate from my personal life when it comes to Facebook. I love talking to colleagues on Twitter and Instagram, but Facebook has always been a personal platform for me, and so very rarely will I “friend” people that I do not know well enough. However, I will admit that after listening to Museopunks’ episode 15, “Professional Identity”, I went out on a limb and added Nina Simon as a friend on Facebook — only because she said she accepts everyone’s friend requests. (Listen to the Museopunks podcast here) Has Nina ever commented on anything I post? Nope. And I’m ok with that. I really added her because I assumed, if she was open to accepting anyone as a Facebook friend, she probably posted some interesting stuff about the world of museums — which I don’t always get on Facebook, as you might imagine.

Last week, Nina posted about nostalgia. Her comment was, “Spending the weekend in DC reminds me that nostalgia is not just for elders. Even little kids look back and wonder: how and why did this change? If history museums tapped into our nostalgia more deeply, I think they could engage us more powerfully with how and why we can change the future.”

As you might expect, the comments on this post were all well thought out and engaging. It really got me thinking, about how nostalgia could work when a history museum took advantage of it. My thoughts are still abstractions that I have been unable to really get down into coherent paragraphs, but so many questions began running through my head:

– How can nostalgia function as both community engagement and a way to welcome visitors to your town or area?
– How can a history museum use nostalgia based on its community, while remaining inclusive of those from outside your community?
– Can you get specific about your historic house or history museum while still remaining relevant?
– What aspects of your community do you focus on? Could this be a way to engage and invite participation of multiple generations of your local community?
– Do you create exhibits? Do you create special tours? Do you have monthly events that focus on different periods of time?

One comment stands out to me, from Lin Nelson-Mayson, the director of the Goldstein Museum of Design at University of Minnesota Twin Cities, College of Design. She wrote, “Whose nostalgia, though ? I wonder. If nostalgia is a starting point for seeing your experience in the larger context of constellation of experiences, it could be a useful point of departure in empathy. Otherwise it’s become reinforcement for “Take our country back”-ness” (my emphasis is added in bold) As someone who has always loved the feeling of nostalgia, and as someone who has a background in history, using nostalgia as a starting point for wider empathy is a perfect example of utilizing the powerful effects history and nostalgia can have on us as human beings. I also agree that, if we use nostalgia to make history museums more effective, we need to be mindful of how we use that nostalgia; we need to remain inclusive of all visitors.

Funny enough, the following day I had the pleasure of attending a talk at Harvard given by Leah Dickerman from the Museum of Modern Art, and Tom Rockwell of the Exploratorium. Both curators talked about the process of developing a new exhibit they had just launched at their respective institutions, and while Rockwell’s was fascinating (I cannot wait to check out the Exploratorium while I’m in California for Christmas!), it was Dickerman’s that really struck a chord with me. Dickerman recently curated MoMA’s new exhibit, “One-Way Ticket: Jacob Lawrence’s Migration Series and Other Works”, and her talk went into how she developed the exhibit; this included working with the history of the Great Migration of African Americans from the South to the North that began in the early 1900s. It fascinated me that Dickerman was so conscious of the history behind Lawrence’s art (though I would expect this, since she is a curator).

Listening to her talk raised some questions; my biggest one being, why is there so much history in art museums? Think about it. The last time you visited an art museum, did you walk away learning a new historical fact? Every time I visit the Museum of Fine Arts or the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, I learn more about history than I do about the art. And this intrigues me. How can we get visitors to engage in history AT history museums, in the same way they do at art museums? What are art museums doing that history museums should learn from? How can history museums attract the same level of donor-based funding that art museums do? Where do we draw the line between what is history and what is art?

These are all questions that I think we should be asking in history museums and art museums. Perhaps the two need to start working together for mutual benefit. The Peabody Essex Museum has a historic house INSIDE THE MUSEUM. I realize that’s not something many art museums are outfitted for, but it’s a thought, to pair art museums with history museums. I can imagine the benefits many of the history and historic house museums in Boston would reap if they were affiliated with the Museum of Fine Arts.

I’d love to hear thoughts on this. Please leave comments!


Thoughts on History Museums

A Follow-Up to Yesterday

Wow. Did yesterday happen? Yes, Alli, it did, and it was awesome. But now what? What are you going to do next??

I will admit, when I first started this blog in 2013, I didn’t know what I was doing. I was hoping to do something similar to what Emily had over at the UMZM and Field Museum, but I didn’t have the access. I thought, well, maybe I’ll do something similar but with the Waterworks Museum; now I’ve left there, and while I think I did a pretty decent job running their social media, I had dreams for what it could have been if I had infinite time and money and resources. I think I also got bogged down in the process of blogging – what do I talk about? How often do I post? Who is going to care? Will anyone even read this thing? So eventually, I stopped.

Yesterday was amazing, and not only because of Emily’s unofficial official nomination. Yesterday I got to meet Hopi Hoekstra, the Curator of Mammals at the Museum of Comparative Zoology, and it was awesome because we got chatting about how awesome it would be if Hopi could get Emily to come visit Harvard and give a talk to kids and students about getting involved with science. Yesterday was amazing because I got to go to work at the HMNH and spend my day surrounded by fascinating collections pieces whose stories have yet to be told. Yesterday was amazing because I got to spend time with my best friend, seeing one of our favorite bands live.

Now, I feel recharged, refreshed, and filled with a new sense of purpose. Today, I go to work with the reminder that people are curious and want to learn more, and that I have the opportunity to facilitate that learning and help fuel that curiosity, in kids and adults alike. Today I go to work with a storyteller’s eye, seeking the tales (haha, tails/tales, get it) that have yet to be told; hoping to awaken long-dead species to tell their stories to whoever will listen; determined to no longer remain dormant. I am once again an active volcano.

My new goal for this blog will be to post twice a week about something I find fascinating at the Harvard Museum of Natural History, the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, the Harvard Semitic Museum, and the Harvard Collection of Historical Scientific Instruments (collectively known as the Harvard Museums of Science and Culture). I don’t have a backstage pass for any of these museums (yet!), so what I’ll be delivering is what I can find through research and asking the right people. It won’t be just natural history focused – there will be history woven in as well, because that is my background and my ultimate passion.

I still need to think of a tag for these special posts, but I will come up with something, don’t you worry. Keep an eye out: things are about to get interesting.

– a 

A Follow-Up to Yesterday

Making Meaning: Kentridge’s “Refusal of Time”

"Refusal of Time" with elephant, William Kentrdige
“Refusal of Time” with elephant, William Kentrdige

I tried to come up with a better title for this blog, but honestly, the one above says it all. Recently in class we’ve been discussing how visitors make meaning, and how we as museum professionals and educators can better facilitate opportunities for visitors to create meaning. The basic concept of Hans-Georg Gadmer’s interpretation of meaning making, where a visitor connects their prior knowledge of an idea with new and evolved ideas presented to them in an exhibit or learning space, has really stuck with me, as well as his notion of bringing people and objects together to have a conversation and, consequently, create meaning. I think, in some way, we have all had this sort of experience (whether or not it was in a museum), where we have knowledge of some fact or notion, and when new information that builds upon and expands that notion is presented to us, we have that moment of, “whoa, no way, I had no idea!”

I had a moment like that during my visit to the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston last week.

I went to the ICA last Thursday to see William Kentridge’s “Refusal of Time”. I’m not a huge fan of contemporary art, but from reading about the exhibition online it sounded new and different, something I had not seen before. It helped that it was a gorgeous sunny day out, the first we have really seen in months, and I was desperate to get out of the house. It took me a solid 2 hours just to get to the ICA because I was too busy enjoying the Harbor Walk along Fort Point. But I finally got there, and after securing my #ITweetMuseums pin and making sure I could take pictures in the exhibit (yes, but no video), I made my way up to the 4th floor galleries to check out the exhibit.

It starts out in a small gallery, with a dozen or so of Kentridge’s charcoal and mixed media pieces. My favorite was “Untitled”, a large charcoal sketch of a waterfall in a jungle. What immediately caught my eye were the red lines throughout the otherwise grayscale piece. The lines had two meanings, both of which I found incredibly interesting: they could be either the line of a surveyor’s instrument, or the laser of a gun sight.

I learned this before reading the introductory text to the multimedia show, “Refusal of Time”. What I learned was that the show was done in response to the British imperialism and domination of South Africa (Kentridge’s home country) and other African nations, and to the notion that because Britain had the Royal Observatory and the Prime Meridian, that Britain controlled time. It took the idea of Einstein’s declaration that time is relative, and expanded upon this to destroy the notion that Britain could control time, and therefore shook the foundation of its imperialistic dominance. This intro text spoke of a plot to destroy the Royal Observatory in 1894, something I had never before heard about. With all of this information in mind, I settled in to watch the 30 minute long, five-screened multimedia show.

To describe what I saw would a) take forever, and b) ruin the experience for anyone thinking about seeing the show. Let me tell you: you should go. Kentridge plays with the visual and auditory to create an entirely immersive experience. You don’t want to leave mid-way through, because you are completely enthralled with the action on each screen. The elephant in the room (sort of literally; Kentridge created a breathing machine to represent the machines that pumped air into clocks in Paris so each would be exact and precise) wasn’t as loud as I thought it would be; in fact, I didn’t hear it at all. Kentridge collaborated with Peter Galison, a professor of the History of Science at Harvard, on the project, and together they created an experience that outlines the changes in how we view space and time. There was live-action, sculpture, sketches, and Kentridge himself walking on chairs in the show. At one point, Kentridge describes the event horizon of a black hole, and compares it to Charon ferrying souls across the River Styx (just go see the show I can’t explain this to you). Megaphones placed throughout the gallery project conflicting sounds and voices (so be careful where you sit). Kentridge narrates throughout, taking us on this mad journey to bring down the Royal Observatory and take back time.

So, how did I make meaning from this?

I majored in history in undergrad. I have always found history to be amazing, especially history that often goes overlooked. Guys, I had never heard of the 1894 plot to destroy the Royal Observatory. I want to know more about this. All I have found so far is this one article from the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, where even they admit there is little known beyond manuscript notes and contemporary newspaper articles. I walked away from that exhibit desperate to know more, and I still feel that way. I was almost overwhelmed by sensory overload during the show, but I could not look away because I had to know. At one point, a hand flips through an atlas, listing cities and towns in Africa that revolted against British oppression during the early 20th century. I walked away wishing I had paid more attention during my History of South Africa class. I walked away feeling like I had learned something new, from art that I generally don’t go out of my way to see (contemporary art). I walked away with new appreciation for how contemporary art can take the most amazing backroads to bring you to your final destination.

I guess to explain meaning making would be a futile effort; we can’t define meaning making beyond a vague inclination, because meaning making is different for every individual, based on experiences and prior knowledge. For me, my experience has been to absorb history, to learn more, to seek out the information I don’t have so I can share it with others. Perhaps it would be fair to say that I don’t always view art as art, but as a vehicle for communicating history. To me, history is central to the human condition; without it, what are we? How do we learn if we can’t learn from the past? How can we reach forward if we don’t know what brought us to the present? These are the questions that drive me, that push me to be a better researcher, that make me look at the world a little differently than others.

I’ve just deleted a paragraph several times because I don’t want to continue to speculate and sound redundant. Everyone has their own method of meaning making. Let’s just leave it at that. But to become better museum professionals, to create a welcoming environment for our visitors, we must create an engaging, accessible, universally designed space for the greatest amount of enjoyment possible. We must create an atmosphere of energy and excitement, and work with multiple learning styles. If we can do this, we can help more visitors have meaning-making moments. And that’s really the point, isn’t it?




Making Meaning: Kentridge’s “Refusal of Time”

#MuseumShowoff Boston!

ImageHey guys! Sorry for not updating as frequently, but I’ve had a lot going on and minimal time to conceive of blog posts!

Let’s get right to it: Museum Showoff. Sitting through a 2 hour class before having to watch five other people showoff before me was possibly the most nervewracking thing ever. George Hein came in to talk about constructivist learning, and we did this really cool group activity where we had to choose a thing to teach someone, and figure out how we could teach that thing using the four main methods of learning and teaching. It was actually pretty hard, but I think our group also chose a difficult concept to teach (the earth goes around the sun). The activity took my mind off my nerves, but only for ten or fifteen minutes. By 6:45, I hate to admit, I was constantly looking at the clock, and feeling very anxious to get out of the classroom and over to Hong Kong. Not too many classmates came, but the ones that did, I really appreciate you coming! It was also great to be reunited with some folks I met at the Story Collider back in September (Becky gave a talk on what it was like being an art history major; and it was Claire’s first time at a DAM/MSO BOS event). I saw a lot of familiar faces, and I’m pretty stoked that my face was familiar to them as well!

The showoffs that I saw were great. (I’m bummed I missed Jeff Steward’s talk about the Harvard Art Museums!) Diana gave a great talk about the HMNH Hack from last month, with some lessons learned from the hack. Emily Oswald’s discussion of the different ways the old Charlesview apartments on North Harvard St could be utilized as pop-up museum space/historic space was incredible, and I totally want to see if that plan can work at all, because that corner is in desperate need of some artistic therapy. Meg Winikates shared what it’s like to have the “From Here to Ear” exhibit at the Peabody Essex Museum, a space not traditionally designed for live animal exhibitions. The video she showed and the way she described the exhibit made me really want to hop on the next commuter rail and go see it (and hopefully sometime next month, I will!). Susan Timberlake’s talk about museum badging for the Center for the Future of Museums was really cool, and I am definitely going to learn more about badging now! Becky’s talk definitely hit home for me; as a history major, I was constantly asked what I wanted to do when I graduated, and most people assumed that the answer to that question was teaching.

I went dead last, and I’m not going to lie about how nervous I was. I was shaking when I plugged my USB into the computer. I had a plan for this talk: I was going to introduce the Waterworks Museum, and basically give everyone a virtual tour of the museum, with a handy PowerPoint and everything. And then, the day before the showoff, I realized what an utterly stupid idea that was. I didn’t want to give people a virtual tour, that would give them absolutely no reason to visit (unless the tour piqued their interest, which I’m sure it would have), and I would have been boring and droned on for 9 minutes citing facts about the building, dates of construction, and basically sounding like a history textbook on legs. I didn’t want that. I wanted people to know what I know, and feel how I feel when I walk in to the Waterworks Museum. (to use an awful analogy, the Waterworks Museum is to me what the Millennium Falcon is to Han Solo) I used photos I took from my time there and put them in to a movie that I had playing on the TV behind me the whole time I was talking. No music, just photos; of the building, of the collection, of the engines, of little things I found that fascinate me. I talked about what I do, and why I’m scared, and why I’m proud. I shamelessly plugged our February Vacation Open House. I wanted my presentation to be a call to arms; to rally people to not only visit the Waterworks Museum, but to take an interest in small historic museums and houses that sometimes get ignored, especially when their cultural competition is a place like the MFA or the Museum of Science.

I’d say I was successful.

The next day, walking up an icy sidewalk to the Waterworks Museum, I was bombarded by tweets from Ed Rodley, about the InvasioniDigita initiative that has started in Italy. It’s an incredible #musesocial initiative, where “mobs” of people “invade” cultural institutions and share their experiences via social media. Instead of solo visits to museums, you have groups of people, starting conversations about art and culture and society, and it looks like an amazing experience. And now they want me to participate in their second edition in April! Hopefully I’ll be able to rally the troops at the next Drinking About Museums: Boston, and in class on Wednesday after I attempt to explain the concept to my classmates.

I know I’ve said this in previous posts, but it needs to be said again: I love the museum community here in Boston. Wednesday night made me feel like I really can do this; that the field I’ve chosen is actually limitless as long as you have passion and determination. I have to thank Ed (again) for making me feel welcome in this community, but I also have to thank everyone else who came up to me after my showoff to say hello. Diana, I totally want to collaborate with you on anything and everything; your vision and creativity blow me away. Emily, I want to help you get Charlesview a makeover. Claire Hopkins just started her museum studies degree, and has a fantastic YouTube channel called Brilliant Botany that I suggest everyone check out (she wrote her undergrad thesis on MAPLE SUGARING, how awesome is that??). Dan Yaeger and Heather Riggs from NEMA, it was so awesome seeing you both there, and thank you so so much for letting me come to the office once a month to volunteer. To the entire museum community: you rock.

I should probably go do homework now…

#MuseumShowoff Boston!

February Update

Holy wow, this month is shaping up to be a busy one.

Classes have started and already been affected due to the weather. Museums & the Law is pretty interesting, though I wish it were in a classroom setting instead of online; I think I would feel better about asking questions if I didn’t have to deal with using my computer’s microphone. The material we’re reading is super heavy, but really quite incredible.

Lynn Baum is teaching Learning in Museums: Understanding the Visitor Experience, and so far it’s shaping up to be an awesome class. There’s a lot of in-class group work, which makes sense, and we have a project that we’re working on during the semester that we hand in as a final report. I’m writing mine on HMNH. I’m stoked. It’ll be a good creative outlet for all of the ideas I’ve had floating around in my head about how to make that place a better museum.

I think I’ve completely switched gears on what I want to do for my thesis. I’m not going to spell it out for you here, but it has nothing to do with World War I anymore (which means I’m not going to Europe this summer). I’ve found a great summer class to wrap up my classes that I think will fit what I’m thinking about really well, and Lynn’s class and the project I’ll be working on for her are definitely going to help build a foundation. I’ve also started (slowly) reading a history of the California Academy of Sciences…so that should give you another clue.

I’ve started taking on more responsibilities at the Waterworks Museum. I’m now the only person that runs the museum’s Facebook and Twitter feeds, and it is so much harder than I thought it would be. HootSuite is pretty easy to use, but I just need to figure out a good plan for the weekends when its harder for me to come up with stuff to post on the fly. It’s pretty clear that people have noticed the increase in our activity; recently we’ve gotten some messages on Facebook, so clearly they feel like there’s an actual person running it (which was my goal all along!). I wrote down some ideas for themes for each day, just so I can have stuff to plan for the week, but still. Guys. It’s really hard. I didn’t think it would be this hard. To all of the people that run the social media feeds of museums I love, I salute you (like, a thousand times).

Next Wednesday is Museum Showoff: Boston and I’m super nervous. Super excited, but super nervous. What if nobody likes what I have to say? What if I screw up? What if everyone is knee-deep in scorpion bowls?! These are the silly fears I deal with. I’m planning on talking about the Waterworks Museum, and when I first signed up I had planned to just do an intro to the museum since I assume not many people will know what the hell it is. But now I’m thinking, well, I’m going to be up there putting myself out there for 9 minutes, I might as well talk about what I do there. So while I am going to introduce the museum and talk about it for a few minutes, I’m also going to talk about what I do. Which is a lot. Collections, social media, research, sit on two committees, work the front desk…ridiculous. Which reminds me, I need to make sure I can take photos on our Open House day (Feb 20th, come by!) so I can post them. Darn you, photo releases.

I’ve also been working on my presentation for the first-ever HistoryCamp, happening in Cambridge on March 8th. Lee Wright put it together, and discussions and panels have slowly started to add up for the full-day conference. Apparently now we have over 100 people attending?! Should be fun. Adriene Katz and I are giving a presentation on objects as sources of history, and we’re both hoping that we’ll have a good chunk of history teachers from primary and secondary schools in the audience. We both realized that neither of us had ever used an object as a primary source until we got to our museum positions, so it will definitely be interesting to see how we can teach this to other people! I’ve got a few slides done, and hopefully I’ll be sending my presentation along to Adriene at the end of the weekend for her to look over. I’m also on a panel to discuss employment with a history degree! If you’re interested in coming, registration is free (unless you want to help offset the costs of everything being free by paying $25) and open until the day of the conference, just go here: historycamp.eventbright.com.

Well, I should start getting things together to go to work. Until next time!

February Update

The West End Street Railway Central Power Station

Oggl_0051 Oggl_0047

If you live in Boston, chances are you’ve heard of the SoWa Open Market and the SoWa Vintage Market. Or just SoWa in general. Located in Boston’s fashionable and posh South End, SoWa (South of Washington St) is home to many old brick buildings, including this one, at 540 Harrison Avenue. Now used as additional parking for the SoWa Markets, this Romanesque/Gothic Revival structure stands as a reminder of Boston’s transportation history.

The building was designed by William G. Preston and built between 1889-1892, and served as the West End Street Railway’s Central Power Station. A precursor to the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, the WESR created the power station to provide electricity for the growing streetcar system. When it was built, the Central Power Station was the largest in the world, with its (now gone) smokestack reaching higher than the Bunker Hill Monument. The building now stands empty, allowing shoppers to ditch their cars while they peruse the vintage and open markets; but this space was once filled with (at least) six 1000hp triple expansion steam engines, four-pole 250kW railway generators, and who knows what else, all required to keep the streetcars running efficiently. After 1899, the station went on to supply power to the Boston Elevated Railway (BERy).

The CPS was purchased and renovated by 540 Harrison Avenue Realty Trust in 1998. The roofs were restored using the original slates, buttressing was fixed, the facades were restored and cleaned, and new windows were installed to match the original glazing. Now you can visit the CPS whenever you want. Make sure you check out the incredible steel rafters running through the building! It’s a glorious monument to Boston’s architectural and transportation history.

See more of the photos I took on my Flickr page.

Boston Preservation Alliance
IEEE Boston
Boston Herald

The West End Street Railway Central Power Station