How can the internet change the way that we conduct research in the humanities? This is a question that scholars have been asking since the earliest days of the web, but as our own relationship with the internet develops through the growth of social networks and smart phones, we continue to find new answers to this question. In my February post I discussed the ways that museums are reaching out to involve adults in the exhibition planning process. These efforts usually take place outside of the museum on interactive online platforms. post: Notes on Modern and Contemporary Art Around the Globe takes these efforts to engage the public a step further. post is a new interactive research platform developed by the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. It was launched just two months ago and the concept is still relatively new, but hopefully the website will blossom into a lively community of amateur researchers working alongside scholars affiliated with the MoMA and beyond. The idea is that users will contribute to bibliographies and research, as well as engage in meaningful discussions about contemporary art. In many ways the idea is an elaboration on the idea of community curation. But rather than solicit the community to help plan an exhibition, post brings amateur art lovers, scholars, and artists from outside of the museum into the conversation at an earlier research stage. The resulting collaboration will then feed back into the work of the museum. Read more.
From Teaching the Hudson Valley:
Teaching the Hudson Valley, in conjunction with the Southeastern New York Library Resources Council (SENYLRC) is offering a five-part workshop series on using primary resources. The series is free to K-12 teachers, librarians and educators at museums, historic sites and other informal learning sites in the Hudson River Valley National Heritage Area and Sullivan County. Interested educators are encouraged to apply as space is limited. The deadline is November 26. Read more.
On October 15th, The Union League of Philadelphia will officially open The Heritage Center, a research center and exhibit space. The Center will be open from 1:00-4:00pm, with Civil War re-enactors and docent-led tours of The Center. Two exhibits are currently on display, Love of Country Leads, which tells the story of the Union League, its members and its activities from its inception to the present and Philadelphia 1861: The Coming Storm, which tells the story of the Philadelphia home front.
For more information about opening day events as well as updates on future events, visit The Heritage Center’s Website: http://www.ulheritagecenter.org/
For 26 years, I’ve been filled with a monomaniacal desire to study the humanities. Earlier this year, however, I became interested in Vertebrate Paleontology—that’s right, dinosaurs. With that being said, a couple of weeks ago I attended a lecture at the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia given by a well-known paleontologist named Jack Horner. Dr. Horner bills himself as a renegade dinosaur authority. Even though he never earned a college degree except the honorary kind, he has changed the way the world thinks about dinosaurs on more than one occasion. His lecture, titled, “Dinosaurs: How to Get Rid of Some Old Ones and Make a New One” outlined some highlights of his research on dinosaur growth and evolution. By viewing thin slices of fossilized bone under fancy microscopes, Horner and his graduate student pals are discovering that some dinosaur species are actually just the misidentified juveniles of other dinosaur species. He isn’t really getting rid of dinosaurs as the title of his lecture would lead one to believe– instead of pruning the family tree he is simply condensing and reorganizing it.
The histological study of fossil bone needed to prove his controversial hypothesis requires Horner to employ some unorthodox tactics–basically he needs to saw through multiple fossil specimens. The idea of purposefully damaging an ancient fossil is like fingernails across a chalkboard to me. As curator of Paleontology at the Museum of the Rockies, Dr. Horner is the professional overseer of a large collection of fossils and, well, he can pretty much do whatever he wants with them. Yet it is worth mentioning that curators at other repositories generally have the same fingernails on the chalkboard reaction to his requests to use their specimens for his destructive research ventures regardless of how important his findings may be.
The 45-minute drive back to my apartment was filled with armchair thoughts about the differences between curating a Natural History collection and curating a Fine Art or Cultural History collection. Both types of collections are used for research as well as exhibition, but in some cases, the approach to studying the objects varies. For example, a scientist working on a project investigating the evolution of renal function in female alligators might request to slice open rare preserved specimens to prod at the curled wires and nodules that shape the excretory system. On the other hand, it is far less likely that a folk historian studying 18th century lead-glazed redware jugs would need to mutilate the artifacts in order to draw his or her conclusions.
Just because you have a term paper, article, or conference submission deadline quickly approaching doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy a short getaway with your friends and family. The following tips and tricks will help you talk anyone into joining you on (and paying for half of) your research trip!
During my first semester of graduate school I needed to visit the Schlesinger Library at Harvard University to do some research for a term paper I was writing. Unfortunately, there was an obstacle standing in the way– actually several hundred obstacles. To access the primary source material that I needed I had to embark on a 7-hour road trip. For a cash-strapped grad student the idea of paying for gas, tolls, and a semi-clean hotel room was out of the question unless I could bring a friend to reduce the overhead. On paper it seemed like a good plan—we’d visit Harvard early on the first morning of our trip, pop into the Boston Public Library to take a look at a few WWI era newspapers, and finally round out the day driving through the suburbs of Boston looking for the historic building that was the topic of my research project. Then the next day we’d head back into Boston to do the things 23-year-olds do when visiting a historic city- you know like getting lost attempting to use the subway, mixin’ it up with the locals, trying to find Cheers, and sitting on the ducks in the Boston Public Gardens.
Well, let’s just say things didn’t go according to schedule. At the Schlessinger Library quickly after the novelty of being at Harvard began to wear off I felt pressured by my friend’s look of glary-eyed boredom to hurry through my work. Same exact thing happened at the Boston Public Library. Ultimately, I cut the research part of the research trip short but I learned a valuable lesson on that spring day in New England: Do not trade an efficient research trip for half price fun in Boston. This experience made me wonder, “Could there be a way to couple cost-effective travel with a productive work schedule?”
With a little bit of forethought and a lot of creativity, I found a better way to trick friends and family into joining me on my academic adventures. Here’s how you can do it: plan a corresponding activity for a friend or family member near the research repository you need to visit, drive out together, but then go your separate ways. When you’re finished meet up again to grab a bite to eat and explore the area together. Luckily for us, the Mid-Atlantic Region has a high concentration of historic and cultural hot spots that make planning a double duty day trip a breeze. What follows are some resourceful research trip ideas to help you find a way to mix work and play:
1. Maryland–Trying to locate evidence proving that former Vice-President Spiro T. Agnew’s gubernatorial campaign strategy was impacted by his mother’s death? Be sure to visit the Special Collections at the University of Maryland to view his personal records, correspondence, appointment books, speech transcripts and more. Invite your Dad along but advise him to grab his clubs! Send him off to play a round on the 18-hole University of Maryland Golf Course while you get down to business.
2. Washington, D.C. —Writing a dissertation chapter about the impact that astronauts in post-moon landing America had on shifting white masculinity during the 1970s? While you are busy analyzing footage of NASA interviews at the National Archives, send your boyfriend to a Redskins game at nearby FedEx Field. You might miss the yummy tailgating food but redirecting the energy you would have exerted pretending to like football could only serve to boost the intensity of your work.
3. Pennsylvania — Conducting research on the visual representation of the old maid stereotype as portrayed in postcards during the early 1900s? Spend your day looking through the over 7,000 postcards held in the Alice Marshall Women’s History Collection at Penn State Harrisburg. Meanwhile, send your friends out to satisfy their candy cravings at HersheyPark. Don’t forget to text them during their tour of Chocolate World with a not-so-subtle reminder that Kit Kats are your favorite.
4. New Jersey—Working a project for a public history course on farming techniques in turn of the century America? Visit the Howell Living History Farm in Lambertville, NJ and immerse yourself in a hands-on and interactive experience of New Jersey farming during the years of 1890-1910. While you’re sheering sheep, milking cows, and chopping wood, lend your girlfriend your wallet and send her a short ways down the road to the popular sister towns of Lambertville and New Hope. This area boasts many delicious dining options, high-end antique stores, trendy art galleries, and trinket filled shops that dot their charming main streets. It’ll keep her busy and you won’t have to pretend to enjoy walking through yet another candle store.
5. Long Island – Have you been putting off that genealogical fact-checking trip to the Suffolk County Historical Society? Don’t forget to pack sunscreen! Have your spouse bring the kids over to splash in the waves at Westhampton beach while you leaf through town records and cemetery transcriptions to grow the branches of your family tree.
6. Delaware—Need to gather images for a conference paper you are presenting on early examples of chromolithography in American advertising? Plan a trip to view the John and Carolyn Grossman Collection of antique images held at Winterthur, the former home of Henry Francis du Pont and send your mother on the tram-tour of the celebrated 1,000 acre garden surrounding the museum. When you are both finished, you can meet for a light lunch in the café overlooking the lush landscape.