Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Help Vermont!

I hope all my East coast readers stayed safe and didn't suffer too much damage over the weekend from the hurricane; I was able to get to school a day early to avoid it, and luckily, my college in Vermont only suffered a power outage and a day without hot water. Just down the hill from us, however, the entire town of Bennington was flooded and suffered huge amounts of damage. Vermont is in particularly bad shape after Irene; the violent flooding swept away houses and roads, and forced the state to close down hundreds of roads and about 30 highway bridges, leaving thousands cut off. The National Guard has been airlifting food, water, and supplies to isolated towns.

If you are financially able, I urge you to donate to the Vermont Food Bank. Just text "FOODNOW" to 52000 to donate $10.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

In Which I Challenge Walter Olson's Dubious Premise

Yesterday, the San Francisco Examiner featured an Op Ed by Walter Olson, editor of, on the demise of the “innocuous” hobby of collecting ancient or dug up coins. Olson belittles the recent repatriation requests of Egypt, Peru, and Greece, and bemoans the domestic laws that ban the trade of pre-Columbian and indigenous remains and artifacts. He calls the rights of origin countries to their cultural property a “dubious premise”, citing the fact that national governments and modern cultures are often distinct from the culture whose artifacts they want returned. Olson broadly claims that these national governments “often lack the will or the means to conserve fragile artifacts as well as collectors would.” He asks if some sort of property right is at issue, and muses,

“Well, one might conceivably argue that certain artifacts, such as funerary urns and temple friezes, must by their nature be regarded as stolen property since at some point they must have been looted from sites originally contemplated as permanent. However, temples might choose to sell their friezes, dynasties go out of business with no receiver in bankruptcy and so forth.”

However, he believes that coins should be treated differently, stating that they “were meant to circulate”. He ends by asking, “Yet modern antiquities law falls over itself to cater to the wishes of the jealous sovereign, at a cost to both fairness and the interests of conservation. Why?”

I’ll tell you why, Mr. Olson. The trade in antiquities without provenance is condemned and, in some areas, restricted for a reason; digging up artifacts, any artifacts (coins included), without scientific training destroys archaeological context. Without this context, we permanently lose any information the object may have been able to tell us about the specific people and culture that made this object, what the object was used for, how the type of object may have evolved over time, when the object appears and disappears in the archaeological record, etc. Not only is this invaluable information lost forever, but the people who created this object are disrespected and demeaned through the desecration of their culture’s remains.

This holds true for coins as well; if a metal detectorist in England were to find a coin from the Han dynasty in China, the existence of that coin in a certain layer of dirt could be connected to other objects close by that might explain the relationship between England and China in my super outlandish scenario. But if that metal detectorist simply picks up the coin and sells it on Ebay to one of the grandparents of those awestruck kids you mention, the entire meaning behind the coin and its history is irreparably dissolved. When this is repeated a countless number of times to feed a growing market, similarly countless numbers of connections and histories are lost forever. Numismatics is an incredibly important aspect of professional archaeology; the destruction of the archaeological context of coins could forever alter our understanding of the relationships and trade routes between ancient peoples.

On the matter of nations’ rights to their cultural property, who is to say that Western culture has a greater right to everyone else’s ancient objects and cultural patrimony? Who are you to claim that England has a greater right to the Elgin Marbles than Greece, or that Germany has a greater right to the bust of Nefertiti than Egypt? This is a dangerously elitist and colonialist point of view. As a Western culture, we do not have a greater right over other countries to own their cultural objects. Yes, the relative safety and stability of our societies combined with the technology we have available to preserve ancient objects does make our countries particularly well-equipped to hold and conserve many objects. However, that does not secure us the right to have these objects in our care when they were illegally ripped from the ground in another geographic and national region. If you believe the nation they came from has no right to these objects, then technically neither do we.

I disagree entirely with the collectors’ widespread tendency to appreciate ancient objects only for their aesthetic value and faintly mystical historical characteristics, or historicity. Ancient artifacts are much more than their aesthetic value; for many people, they are emotionally, culturally and historically meaningful objects that connect them to their nation’s ancestry, whether that ancestry is biologically or spiritually chosen.

There are so many more ways to approach these issues than to simply draw the lines between nationalist and technological rights, and stand firmly in a camp that promotes such destruction. A lot of problematic birds could be killed with some innovative stones if collectors rerouted their focus from buying individual artifacts to supporting museum, conservation, and archaeology efforts in “origin” countries. Maybe, instead of supporting a system that does very little to improve poverty-stricken economies in “origin” countries, collectors could spend their thousands and millions on cultural and educational centers that would not only provide jobs for would-be looters and dealers, but improve understanding of history and culture in regions that have little access to formal education. Maybe, instead of hoarding all of our cultural and technological knowledge to this one area of the world, we could make greater efforts to empower "origin" countries so they have the economical and technological means to care for their own cultural heritage. Maybe, instead of lamenting the end of this Western “hobby” of collecting the objects stolen from the graves and homes of people more exotic than us, you could use your access to the media to raise awareness about the world-wide destruction of our human history. In the end, those awestruck little kids will be able to maintain their awe if they actually have a history to be awed by.

None of us have the right to deny human beings their cultural and geographical heritage. To do so is a dangerously subtle form of genocide.

Get Some Sleep, or How I Learned To Stop Caffeinating and Survive Higher Education

In ten short days, I will be back at Bennington College for my senior year. Thank the lard. I’ve been going to college since I was 17. I’ll be 23 when I graduate. In all that time I like to think I’ve figured out how to navigate higher education while still being a (moderately) healthy and sane person. I count last year as my first full year of truly being 100% semi-functional. The proof: I only kind of related to Liz Lemon in that episode of 30 Rock where she pulls that all-nighter and yells, “YOU DO NOT CROSS A SUGAR BAKER WOMAN. AND THIS IS MY HOUSE. I’m so tired you guys, I’m so tired.” This is not to say I didn’t come close to that, or that it wasn’t hard. It was really hard. It was one of the hardest years of my life, academically and personally. But the success here is that any sickness I contracted was brief and didn’t disrupt my work; I had significantly fewer breakdowns that usual (I could count them on one hand if I had to); and I had a record number of breakthroughs about my work and my relationships with others that gave me invaluable perspective to hold onto when life wasn’t so easy. In the last two years at Bennington, I have learned a lot about how to deal, and a lot of it I wish I had known going in. So for all the little freshman out there, particularly the little freshman at Bennington, I am handing you my hard-won wisdom in the hopes that you’ll get to a better place faster.

1. It is possible to go an entire term without any all-nighters. And to make it to every meal. And to not get so sick that you want to fake your own death so that you don’t have to deal with this crap anymore.

My first year at community college/senior year of high school, I made myself sick from all-nighters. I had not yet grasped the concept of time-management, which ended up with me getting no sleep up to 3 nights every week. At about 4 in the morning, my personality would split and have the following conversation: “Meg. It’s ok. You’re doing so well.” “So tired. Poem. What? Tequitos?” “Shh, it’s going to be ok. Let’s go make some tequitos and tea. We’re just going to get up very slowly, put the tequitos in the microwave, and everything will feel better.” “Ok. Foot. Tequitos. Poem. Feel better.”

Five years later, I go to a school where we don’t have extracurriculars because a) we like to make them up ourselves and b) we just don’t have that kind of time. And I still get at least 6 hours of sleep every night, even during finals. This is definitely not a typical scenario, but the stress I put on my body during my first couple years of college exacerbated my congenital heart condition; a year and a half after I graduated from high school, I had to get my pulmonary valve replaced. Now, I try to be kinder to my body. I eat a lot of garlic (so good for your immune system), drink a lot of echinacea tea (sickness is terrified of echinacea), work hard when I’m working, and take breaks when I need them. I organize my time, I make lists, I eat my vegetables.

It really all just comes down to: eat your vegetables, get some sleep, and don’t be a dumb ass about how you manage your time. College really is different from high school. There’s no way around it. You will suffer as you figure it all out, but you don’t have to get sick in the process. I have seen a lot of intelligent people screw up their bodies and their brains by not sleeping, not eating (or eating a lot of nasty junk), and abusing prescription drugs like adderall to get through their work. This is so unnecessary, and you have no excuse for treating your mind/body (SAME THING) like a garbage disposal for sodium and death. Steer clear of the adderall and take a five hour nap if you really want to get things done.

2. Figure out your limits.

I know now that my first year at Bennington was really all about figuring out my limits. My time at Pierce College and Montgomery College had been about testing my limits; how many Smithsonian internships could I fit into a year? Would the women’s studies department let me get away with doing an independent study on the American cultural history of menstruation? How many friends could I make by eating lunch with the smokers and potheads? (The answers: two, yes, and quite a few.) But Bennington has been all about realizing when and if I want to say no. Had I known that at the time, I might have spent more time consciously working them out so that some limits might not have taken so long.

It only took one term to figure out my limit for drinking; I know now how much is too much and how often is too often. It took me three terms to figure out how much toxicity in a friendship I can handle before I decide to let it go. Three terms to realize that no matter how hard I push the limits of what I study at Bennington, my Plan committee is There For Me and will do their best to help me learn what I need to learn. Four terms to figure out how much of myself I want to give to friendships that are never going to give as much back. Four terms to understand that trivializing my accomplishments is sometimes ok to keep hubris in check, but mostly needs a limit to prevent emotional suicide. One term to realize there is no limit to the amount of rice crispy treats you should smuggle out of the dining hall on hot dog day.

We all have different limits, but as you subject yourself to one of the most raw and exciting times of your life, just be aware that there are limits to be found.

3. That grade doesn't always mean what you think it means.

At Bennington, you actually have to request grades if you want them. Otherwise, it’s a pass/fail system. How well we do is based on our faculty evaluations. I grew up getting straight As; I only ever had one B, and that was for an Italian class I took at a community college when I was 14, so I figured getting a B on a college level course when I was barely out of middle school was actually pretty ok. My first spring at Bennington, I got an essay back from my faculty advisor with a big fat B, aka "epic fail" written on it. As I walked back home and reluctantly read her comments, I realized that next to all the criticism were suggestions for how I could do better next time. This can’t have been the first time a professor made encouraging suggestions instead of just listing why I didn’t get an A, but it was the first time in my life that I didn’t see my mistakes as personal failings; they were just part of the process in fully understanding the material. I realized that my whole life, my entire self-worth as a student was based on whether or not I got an A. Not on what I actually learned.

It sounds really simple, but I never understood until then that you have to make a mess of stuff before you can make something beautiful out of it, and that letter grades are wholly incapable of expressing the intricacies of this process. I am telling you the truth when I say that at first, everything is going to be hard and you are going to be criticized more than you will be praised. In the end, whatever grade you get can never fully reflect whether or not you learned to utilize that criticism and take it in stride; whether you learned the material, and didn’t just memorize it long enough to survive the term; and whether you tried to connect what you were learning with your bigger academic and personal picture. I have received a lot of As for classes that I put minimal effort into, and got very little out of. But the one C I got was for a class that changed my life; that C reflects only the confusion of my essays as I tried to process everything I was learning; it doesn’t reflect how hard I worked, how frequently I met with the professor to get help with my work, what I actually learned, or how I am still using what I learned in that class in my everyday life and work. The only thing that C really tells you that my mid-term essay was really badly organized and the rest of my grade suffered because of that one paper. (Also, there were only two major essays assigned in that course, which doesn’t really help a girl out when it comes to grade percentages.) So, when I send my transcript to grad schools or employers after I graduate, unless they also read my course evaluations, all they’re going to know about me is whatever tiny bit of information my letter grades can tell them. Sometimes an A doesn’t mean you were spectacular. Sometimes it just means that you’re good at memorizing stuff and that you showed up.

My biggest advice to you is to not measure the success of your education by your letter grades or awards. Ultimately, those things don’t mean much if you can’t actually use the knowledge they represent to improve your field. If you really want to get something out of your education, measure it by how hard you work, by how much you learn, and by how you use the criticism of others to improve.

In short: Get some sleep. Set some limits. Learn what you can. Regret very little.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Emory University's museum refuses to disclose information on Joseph Lewis Egyptian antiquities

CultureGrrl just posted about yet more drama in the saga over Joseph Lewis, the collector who was indicated along with three other men in smuggling and selling/buying antiquities. Lee Rosenbaum has been investigating the various museums who have accepted pieces from Lewis, particularly the Boston Museum of Fine Arts and the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts , both of which accepted loaned pieces. However, Emory University's Michael C. Carlos Museum has nineteen objects in their permanent collection that were donated by Lewis. Most of them are on view in their Egyptian galleries. When pressed for more information about these objects and what course of action the museum would be taking considering the investigation underway, the museum's spokesperson refused to provide any more information. This refusal to provide information on the museum's permanent collection directly defies both the Association of Art Museum Directors' stance on museum transparency and the museum's own collecting guidelines.

This situation is particularly grave considering it IS a university museum. We have all come to expect (but not condone) this from big institutions like the MFA and the Met. But we should be particularly ruthless/bitchy in addressing the ethics of the illicit antiquities trade when we find it university museums as well, considering their even greater responsibility to use these objects for education (as opposed to the cop out of simple aesthetic appreciation favored by bigger museums.) I get the feeling that a lot of university/college museums often feel a sense of false security when it comes to antiquities; when I visited the Williams College Museum of Art with my archaeology class last term, we had a docent talk to us about their Assyrian reliefs from the Palace at Nimrud. Someone asked what the museum would do if Iraq asked for the pieces back. The lady hemmed and hawed. Our professor asked us what we think should happen, and I was like, "WELL, it'd be great if the museum just acknowledged that this is part of Iraq's patrimony and Iraq allowed an extended/permanent loan..." But the general feeling in the room was that of course Iraq wouldn't be asking for these pieces of wall back; they can barely manage what's still in the ground, let alone some slabs of wall in a far away New England college museum.

University museums should not feel safe from these issues. Just because they haven't suffered the press coverage and investigations that have targeted bigger public museums doesn't mean that day isn't coming. I hope the students and faculty at Emory University and the members of the Carlos Museum demand honesty, transparency, and ethical behavior from their museum this fall.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Media coverage + Indiana Jones = Rant

Today the Guardian published this article about the illicit antiquities trade, particularly the trade coming out of Egypt. Larry Rothfield has already shared his opinion on this article and, as with most things Larry Rothfield says, I agree with him entirely. I would like to add that we shouldn’t just be focusing on Middle Eastern antiquities, but on artifacts from basically EVERYWHERE. Looting in the Middle East is definitely a problem, but it is also a problem in South America and Asia as well. It’s a worldwide issue and it should be discussed that way. Additionally, though I am glad the Guardian is giving these issues some much-needed media attention, the same part of me that still can’t get over the Harry Potter movies not being exactly like the books also cannot get over the Indiana Jones reference in the first fricking sentence of this article.

I’m sure this has been ranted about before, but my reasons for ranting about Indiana Jones right now are twofold. First, I’m getting tired of the reference. Second, using this reference to describe big events in combatting the illicit antiquities trade makes the entire thing sound like a novelty or adventure, something that is harmful but not very harmful to people. This is not only a wildly inaccurate perception of the trade, but it is just as potent a lie as any Marion True ever told.

For the record, the first and third Indiana Jones movies are two of my favorite films ever. I used to study film. I love good films. These are good films. Harrison Ford has enough swagger for three men. Love him. But the way Indiana Jones does archaeology is not one of those lessons you should be taking with you outside your screening of the film. Kind of like how anything Captain Jack Sparrow does is fun but not something you should mimic in real life, even for laughs, because people will not want to hang out with you if you do. Let me break it down for you: Indiana Jones has a pretty old-school idea of how history should be preserved. Like, 19th century old school. He and Napoleon have a similarly shoddy approach to preservation, and share a similarly destructive mindset that individuals have the right to singlehandedly obtain “museum-quality” pieces for the Western world to admire. In the process of obtaining these pieces, whole worlds full of ancient history are destroyed in the process. To put it lightly, this approach is no longer widely accepted to be valid by the academic community.

Consequently, comparing the illicit antiquities trade to a popular film that glamorizes art crime and a very unorthodox method of archaeology undermines just how important it is for the public to consider the illicit antiquities trade the same way they consider other similar criminal enterprises, such as the sex trade or the hard drugs trade. When the FBI busts a meth lab, we don’t compare that to an episode of Numb3rs or Bones. We don’t make it sound fun or adventurous or out of the ordinary. And we don’t refer to the meth as treasure. Artifacts are not treasure. This is not Pirates of the Carribbean. This is real life and real people’s cultural property being ripped up and peddled as discreetly, dangerously, and unethically as cocaine or child porn. Allowing people to think of archaeologists, art crime law enforcement officials, or cultural heritage specialists the same way they think of their favorite swashbuckling archaeologist hero is as backward and dangerous as keeping these issues out of textbooks, allowing museums to withhold provenance details, and allowing collectors to donate all their stolen cultural material for a hefty tax break. It’s not fun. It’s not treasure. It is our human history, and it’s being crushed right in front of you.

James Cuno wraps up first week as Getty director

Yesterday the Los Angeles Times published an article reflecting on James Cuno at the end of his first week as the Getty Trust's president and CEO. The interview is noticeably focused on acquisitions. I was particularly interested in the characteristics Cuno is looking for as he hires a new museum director; he says that his candidate should have "an appetite for risk in acquiring extraordinary works of art". What kind of risk, exactly? That's a rather sketchy thing to say considering the Getty is still rinsing the bad taste in its mouth from past risk-taking curators Jiri Frel and Marion True. I understand that many are hopeful that Cuno will do well for the Getty, but I still find him to be a very strange choice of director after all the Getty has suffered. Albeit, this is only one interview, but I agree with Larry Rothfield that Cuno is rather too focused on acquisitions, and would do well to focus more on how he will create efforts to educate the museum community, collectors, dealers, and the public in general on how to enjoy, teach, and learn about art/artifacts responsibly and ethically.

The best curator's game you'll ever play

I've been flipping through Thomas Hoving's Master Pieces during my bored moments this week. (Hoving, now deceased, was the Met's director before Philippe de Montebello.) The book is a game Hoving played as a curator with other curators where someone would bring in details from paintings and everyone had to guess which paintings they were from.

And there's an entire section dedicated to butts.

Oh, Thomas Hoving. As if I wasn't already going to make my friends play this game when I get back to school.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

How I Got This Way: Anastasia

A few weeks ago, I went on a date with a dude who told me, with a candor that was both disgusted and ill-restrained, that hanging out in cemeteries for fun and reflection is really weird. I don’t appreciate being told outright that I’m strange, especially by a potential gentleman caller. There are a lot more things I am other than strange. Strikingly beautiful, for one. Astoundingly intelligent, for another. But despite how secure a person I am, it was startling to be thrust into a moment that was reminiscent of high school, where being slightly different is different enough for comment. In the end, the experience was a good thing: first and most importantly, I realized I can never consider dating anyone who doesn’t think ice cubes made from coffee is the best idea ever. Second, I began in earnest to consider the things in my life that have contributed to my enjoying cemeteries, crying during Disney movies, and once being told by Dan Hofstadter that I take art too seriously. Ultimately, these are the kinds of experiences I think more people should have. I can’t see any downsides to being this emotional and passionate about history, art, and people, and I don’t regret any of the things in my life that have made me this way. So I’m going to capitalize on my oddities and experience by serially writing about particularly incidents, media, and people that made me this way.

To assure you that I am in fact a serious writer, the first thing I wanted to write about was how my father taking me to military cemeteries as a child taught me to grieve for the dead, no matter how long they’ve been dead. Naively, I assumed this could be knocked out in a night the way everything else I write is. Not so. The second best thing I’ve got on this list that can be completed in under two hours is the effect of the film Anastasia on my childhood education. I’m not kidding.

(This is the best version I could find on Youtube. Fittingly, it's in Russian.)

For those of you who have never seen it, Anastasia is an astoundingly historically-inaccurate version of the Russian Revolution, in which Rasputin has sold his soul to the devil for a fleet of evil green minions, and the princess Anastasia survives but gets amnesia after hitting her head on a train track. That said, the music is great and Meg Ryan’s very flat American way of saying “do svidaniya” is kind of charming, as is most everything about Meg Ryan pre-cosmetic surgery. After Anastasia has been released from the orphanage and decides to head to St. Petersburg instead of the fish factory where she has a job, she’s told to find the singularly-named Dmitri (like that would really help her in the real life USSR) if she wants an exit visa to Paris. Dmitri just so happens to be living in the old palace. So she goes to find Dmitri at the palace where she used to live (ssh) and it is the most haunting scene I’ve ever watched in an animated film. Those first moments when she pulls the boards off the palace doors; the moment she walks up the red carpeted-stairs; when she blows the dust off the cob-webbed silver plate and then SEES HER AND HER FATHER DANCING IN THE REFLECTION = chills. However, the most tingle-inducing moment is when she’s begun to sing the seminal song, Once Upon a December, and as she hits the chorus and stares out at the ballroom, all the portraits lining the walls EXHALE DUST AND ALL THESE DANCING GHOSTS POP OUT. So Anastasia dances with the ghostly figures, AND THEN WITH HER SISTERS AND FATHER. If you haven’t seen this as a child, I can’t quite describe the wonder it imparts on active imaginations, followed closely by disappointment as Dmitri calls out to chase her away and all the ghosts (and her awesome dress) disappear.

This scene is probably the most responsible event in my personal history for my interests in memory, historical sites, and the phenomenon of “historicity”, or that magical feeling people get about old stuff and old places. It taught me that when you interact with old things, you develop a relationship with them and the memories associated with them; the people that touched them before you did are ingrained in their history and consequently, you become part of the same dance sequence as the ghosts themselves. Life, man. LIFE. Seriously though, even though Anastasia is interacting with her own personal history, I don’t see much difference between that and interacting with history that’s thousands of years old. When it comes down to it, all history is our history; we have no idea how one small action in a place far away from our own may have affected the fact that we exist right now. Being able to excavate, curate, and see objects that are hundreds or thousands of years old is the same to me as an amnesiac orphan blowing dust off a silver plate that she maybe ate off of as a child. If you have kids, I encourage you to let them watch this movie. Their slight fear during the part where the evil minions take over the train will be worth the magical feeling they’ll get watching Anastasia interacting with her own history, totally unaware that it is her history.

Spain cracks the heck down on looters

Spain's Guardia Civil arrested twelve people who seem to have made looting a full-time job, and seized more than 9,000 antiquities in the Mediterranean region of Valencia. Thirteen homes were raided and, in addition to coins and medallions, investigators found metal detectors, maps of archaeological sites, and things used to clean looted artifacts. Spain's Historical Heritage Law prohibits searching or digging for archaeological materials without authorization, and demands that pieces found by chance or authorized digs must be turned over to the authorities.

This is definitely a victory for Spain in their work against looting, and hopefully it will serve as an example to other countries as well. Paul Barford has a recent post lamenting that while Spain is cracking down, the British government is actually encouraging metal detectorists who make historical finds and doing very little to halt the widespread looting of England's history. Fo' shame, U.K.

Recommended: Center for the Future of Museums: Landing a Job in the Museum of the Future

The Center for the Future of Museums' blog just posted this: Landing a Job in the Museum of the Future. These four points (Do real work, come at it from the side, focus on practice not theory, and train for the future) really verbalize how I've been trying to approach my own education and career, and how I recommend other students approach it too. Many factors, the crappy economy among them, have been changing the way the museum world operates; it's not the kind of world anymore where you can just get away with following the traditional academic path to securing a job and keeping it. You have to be bold, audacious, and independent about your work: figure out what it is you have to offer, build on your own ideas, and find your own ways to either implement your ideas yourself or propose to museums how your work could help solve their problem areas. This is a major DIY era for students or fresh graduates in this field.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011


New visual dimension. ENJOY.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Summer reading: Online edition

Because I’m at home in central Massachusetts, it’s been hard to find really serious academic books on cultural heritage in my public library system. I’ve found a lot of great, more mainstream books, but comparatively, that stuff is more like pleasure reading. However, my school’s library happens to be phenomenal and has made a lot of its online resources available off-campus, so I can still turn to Ebrary and Jstor when my library falls short. I’m pretty sure most schools offer Ebrary (or other similar sources for online books), which is not a great source for big titles but is excellent for collections of essays based off conference papers and smaller publications that aren’t popular enough to be worth your library buying a hard copy. So if you’re yearning for meatier reading this summer, you can find these kinds of titles online through your school:

  • Theorizing Digital Cultural Heritage: A Critical Discourse, by Fiona Cameron and Sarah Kenderdine
  • Cultural Heritage Issues: The Legacy of Conquest, Colonization and Commerce, by J.A. Nafziger and A.M. Nicgorski
  • Protection of First Nations Cultural Heritage: Laws, Policy, and Reform, by Catherine E. Bell and Robert K. Paterson
  • Cultural Landscapes: Balancing Nature and Heritage in Preservation Practice, by Richard Longstreth and Susan Calafate Boyle
  • Heritage, Memory, and the Politics of Identity: New Perspectives on the Cultural Landscape, by Niamh Moore and Yvonne Whelan
I haven't read past the first page of any of these titles yet, but they're all crowded in my "bored" browser that I skim when things get slow on facebook.

Grad Program Guide: Brown University

I was going to write about the University of Denver’s Museum and Heritage Studies program today, but last night I had a really weird dream that I was wandering around the Hirschhorn Museum (only it definitely wasn’t the Hirschhorn because all it had were dioramas of George Washington’s death and Santa Claus) wondering if I’d really been accepted to Brown University’s Public Humanities M.A. program. I hadn’t applied, but I remembered receiving an acceptance letter, and I spent the dream both being confused about my academic future and trying to find an exhibit that wasn’t an empty room or a gory diorama. If you are a dream interpretation expert, email me, because I can’t find a meaning for “diorama” on

In my school-researching experience, there are only three or four REALLY choice programs involving cultural heritage in the U.S., and Brown University’s Master’s in Public Humanities is one of them. Offered through their Department of American Civilization, the program can be completed either as a terminal master’s program or as part of the Ph.D program. The program lasts two years, is designed to prepare students for careers in museums, historical societies, state and federal humanities and cultural resource agencies, and historic preservation and community cultural development organizations. Because Brown has an open curriculum, there are only two required courses: Introduction to Public Humanities and Methods in Public Humanities. After that, students have their pick of ten elective courses.

The term “public humanities” refers to the many ways “that the university reaches out to the public to connect academic understandings to a broader audience. We also include the techniques of recording and presenting art, history, and culture, in museums and historic sites, documentaries, and other media.” They emphasize that they are not just interested in exploring culture, but are committed to working with students, professionals, and the community to preserve, understand, and make use of cultural heritage.

I think it’s pretty safe to say that one can judge a program based on how much information they provide on their website; I don’t feel particularly wooed by a program if there’s only one page with a short description, no links, no .pdf offerings, no course listings, and no personalized information about the directors or students. Why should I want to apply to a school that doesn't seem to have anything to give me? Schools should be all about wooing you, right? Drawing you in with their impressive list of accomplishments, opportunities, and research. Going to a site with the bare minimum is like a guy hitting on you and you realizing the most he has to give are some corn chips and some really old video game consoles. And not even the cool retro kind. Well, the website for the John Nicholas Brown Center for Public Humanities and Cultural Heritage is maybe the most rock star of program websites I’ve seen so far, a digital Romeo of cultural heritage with Taye Diggs wooing powers. Not only does it include really detailed information about the M.A. program, including student profiles, a huge course listing (Gravestones and Burying Grounds” or “The Sixties Without Apology” anyone?), and examples of presentations and papers, but it also boasts a museum loan network, a public humanities clinic, a practicum program, and the Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology. If you are super into the American side of cultural heritage studies, this is the school for you. You won’t often find these kind of opportunities all in the same place. Also, who doesn’t love Rhode Island?