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Haunting Attractions for the Halloween Season

Agatha Wojciechowsky. American (born Germany), 1896-1986.
aw 0323, 1963.
Watercolor on paper.
Courtesy of the Collection of Steven Day, New York, NY

Image from the Minneapolis Institute of Art from the Supernatural America exhibit.

It only takes a few steps into a pharmacy or grocery in the month of October to see the impact of Halloween on the public. Aisles are filled to the brim with candy, fake spiderwebs, and gregarious costumes in anticipation of a raucous holiday season. As the town of Salem prepares for a record-breaking month of tourism, one thing is abundantly clear: mainstream interest in the occult, the scary, and the supernatural is stronger than ever.

Can this affection for the macabre manifest in the museum world? Is it possible to run exhibitions on the things that go bump in the night? Would people view a museum as the authority on the supernatural? In short, yes! Many museums have capitalized on the paranormal. Some institutions have featured supernatural themes in rotating exhibitions while others dedicate their entire exhibition capacity to allegedly haunted objects. For example, the recent traveling exhibit Supernatural America: The Paranormal in American Art enjoyed well-attended displays at the Toledo Museum of Art, Minneapolis Institute of Art, and the Speed Art Museum.

Of course, a bizarre and subversive topic like the supernatural lends itself to dramatic and otherworldly interpretations, with many institutions blurring the line between museum and haunted house. But rather than dismiss these unconventional museums for their unorthodox methods, we should approach them with curiosity—they are tapping in on an interest that is in high demand. If these institutions can generate excitement for visiting exhibits, they are making an invaluable contribution to the museum and historic house community.

Here are some haunting attractions to enjoy this Halloween:

Zak Bagan’s The Haunted Museum in Las Vegas, Nevada may look like a haunted mansion from the outside, but it holds hundreds of artifacts relating to true crime and the supposed supernatural. With thousands of positive reviews, it is clear that the Haunted Museum is providing an exciting and memorable visitor experience.

The Paranormal Museum in Ashbury Park, NJ is a popular roadside attraction in the New Jersey community. Combined with the Paranormal Books & Curiosities shop, the Museum is home to many haunted artifacts and ghost-hunting equipment.

Of course, historic Salem makes this list with the Salem Witch Museum, one of many occult museums and historic houses in this scenic New England town. At the Witch Museum, visitors can expect to learn about the origins and impacts of the Salem Witch Trials and will be encouraged to consider more modern iterations of this community-wide panic.

Image courtesy of Save Our Cemeteries.

No list of haunted attractions would be complete without mention of New Orleans. For those seeking a more interactive activity, a cemetery tour is the perfect fit. Explore the historic crypts and mausoleums of Orleans parish while learning about some of the cemetery’s most prominent residents. Tours conducted by Save Our Cemeteries, Inc are historically accurate and mutually beneficial—proceeds earned from tours are reinvested into the critical preservation of these historic landmarks.

Happy Halloween from the Tufts Museum Studies Program—we hope you have the happiest and safest of holidays!

***

Article by Danielle Maurer

MA Candidate: History & Museum Studies

Tufts University

Weekly Job Roundup

Welcome to the weekly roundup! This week focuses on the New England Area.  We do our best to collect the latest job openings, and please be sure to check last week’s roundup. For more opportunities, we recommend the following databases:

HireCulture – Jobs in the Humanities in Massachusetts
HistPres – Unique Historic Preservation Jobs
Museum Employment Resource Center
Job HQ – American Association of Museums
American Association of State and Local History Career Center
New England Museum Association Jobs                                                      New York Foundation for the Arts

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The Parthenon Marbles and the Issue of Restitution

Whether you are part of the museum world or not, you have likely heard of the controversy surrounding the Parthenon marbles. This summer, newspapers have been flooded with stories about these ancient sculptures, with a renewed fervor for restitution and apparent headways in the Greek cause. Housed at the British Museum, they have been at the center of debates over restitution. Their history provides a fascinating jumping-off point for discussions on how museums handle their history, especially in cases where past practices do not reflect 21st-century understandings of museum ethics. What, exactly, is the history of these works? How should we handle complex discussions of heritage and cultural ownership? How do societal moralities confront war and theft in “European-on-European” conflicts?

This past Sunday, comedian John Oliver covered museums in his deep dive on Last Week Tonight. He began by discussing the Parthenon Marbles, then moved on to focus on the issue of decolonization and restitution in European and American museums. This has brought renewed public attention to this issue, but over the summer months, we also saw a number of articles in museum and art publications discussing these same sculptures.

Art historian Eleni Vassilika wrote an informative article outlining her shift in perspective regarding the restitution of the marbles, while archaeologist Mario Trabucco della Torretta reiterated the right of the British Museum to retain them. The prominence of this debate can also be seen in the demonstration that took place in the British Museum on June 18, 2022, when protesters marked the anniversary of the opening of the Acropolis Museum in Athens by demanding the return of the marbles. The protesters are not without allies in the British government, as several members of Parliament have also expressed support for their cause. The British Museum’s chairman, George Osborne, instead proposed alternatives to the unequivocal return of the marbles, suggesting a temporary loan or an agreement to “…tell both stories in Athens and in London.” This debate has led to numerous solutions being put forward, including providing copies for the British Museum to display, but ultimately it seems impossible to find an agreement that will satisfy all sides. Most recently, Prime Minister Liz Truss has spoken on the return of the Parthenon Marbles, claiming that she is entirely against it, seemingly putting an end to the potential collaborations proposed by Osborne. This speaks to the complexity of the issue and reveals how recent discussions on ethics and restitution place museum studies on the cusp of a new age.

Figure: Protestors holding a banner reading “Reunify the Marbles!” at the British Museum (BCRMP, through The Art Newspaper)

A decree from the Sultan of Turkey granted Elgin free access to the Acropolis and assures his right to “tak[e] away any pieces of stone with inscriptions or figures.” (Casey) Elgin took this language with the loosest possible interpretations, giving himself permission to remove “hundreds of tons of sculptured material from the Parthenon and its surrounding structures.” (Casey) Between 1801 and 1812, Elgin managed to place in his personal property 247 feet of the frieze that ran around the perimeter of the building, 15 metopes, and 17 sculptures from the pediment. Initially intended to decorate his house, after a costly divorce and rapidly mounting debts Lord Elgin decided to sell them (at a loss from the cost of transporting them from Greece to England) to the British Museum.

Criticism of Elgin’s removal of the reliefs and sculpture is certainly not a recent phenomenon. Elgin’s contemporaries criticized his wanton dismantling of the Greek site. The Monthly Magazine published an editorial that claimed that “many things which had been hitherto considered immovable have been torn away from the places where they had remained unmolested for thousands of years.” (Casey) Greece, an increasingly popular site for British Gran Tours during the years of Napoleon’s European conquests, was now stripped of one of its most admired monuments.

A Brief Timeline of Greece and the Parthenon Marbles
5th century BCE The Parthenon Marbles are created in the Acropolis in Athens
1456 Athens is conquered by the Ottoman Empire
1798 Thomas Bruce, Earl of Elgin, is appointed as ambassador to the Ottoman Empire
1799 Lord Elgin approaches the British government to gauge interest in creating plaster casts of the Parthenon Marbles, receiving a negative response
1801 Elgin begins removing the marbles from the Parthenon, moving them to Malta and eventually to England
1821 The Greek War of Independence begins against the Ottoman Empire; a revolutionary government named the First Hellenic Republic is established; the revolution is celebrated in Greece on March 25th as Independence Day
1832 The leader of the First Hellenic Republic is assassinated; the Kingdom of Greece is established under King Otto I
1924 The kingdom is dissolved; the Second Hellenic Republic is established
1935 The kingdom is restored under King George II
1967 A Greek military junta led by right-wing colonels takes over the government
1974 The Third Hellenic Republic (the current Greek government) is established
1983 Melina Mercouri, Greek Minister of Culture, formally asks for the restitution of the Parthenon marbles
2009 The Acropolis Museum opens to the public; it is built in part to house the Parthenon Marbles

Last year, I had the opportunity to discuss some of these topics at the “Crime and Spectacle: Theft, Forgery, and Propaganda” conference through the CMSMC. I later published a paper through the CMSMC based on my talk, titled “‘Conquête Militaire’: The Ethics of Restitution of the Louvre’s Napoleonic Legacy.” In it, I examined the issue of heritage and ownership in regard to Veronese’s Wedding Feast at Cana, a Venetian work looted by Napoleon in 1797 and still housed at the Louvre today. Looting within the context of European wars is nothing new or unusual, and this makes the question of restitution and museum acquisition ethics even more complicated. While researching for this article, I reached out to the Louvre, and Chief Curator Vincent Delieuvin kindly replied, explaining:

“There are no discussions on repatriating these objects. This is part of the European history. In our countries, many places or museums have in their collection that kind of objects taken, in old times, during war. For example, in Venice, the cathedral of San Marco has many objects taken during the crusade in Constantinople.” (Delieuvin)

The Louvre is certainly not alone in maintaining this point of view, as the vast majority of European museums hold objects acquired through military conquests and plunder, or owned by a particular modern nation through the consequences of the ever-shifting borders of European territories. The question of the right of ownership and repatriation of art moved throughout Europe is thus difficult to quantify or apply a single, overarching solution to.

I finished my article by citing Dr. Lisa Yun Lee, and I want to do the same here. She wrote, “At some point, the history of your institution will disappoint you. Tell this history, and take responsibility for the past.” (Lee, 77) Often we see these discussions getting entangled in questions of legality, and we rarely stop to consider their morality. Museum professionals hold a responsibility to the objects and history they care for, and thus should consider the ethics of the provenance of their objects and act on it, without using the documentation or past, outdated principles to shackle objects taken unethically.


Sources:

Bisi, Francesca. “‘Conquête Militaire’: The Ethics of Restitution of the Louvre’s Napoleonic Legacy.” The Coalition of Master’s Scholars on Material Culture, February 25, 2022 (link).

Casey, Christopher. “‘Grecian Grandeurs and the Rude Wasting of Old Time’: Britain, the Elgin Marbles, and Post-Revolutionary Hellenism.” Foundations 3, no. 1 (2008): 32–64.

Delieuvin, Vincent. “Research Questions – Wedding Feast at Cana,” February 12, 2022.

Lee, Lisa Yun. “Hope Is Not a Metaphor: An Annotated Guide to Twenty-Five Essential Skills for Museum Leaders.” In The Inclusive Museum Leader, edited by Cinnamon Catlin-Legutko and Chris Taylor, 75–82. American Alliance of Museums. London, UK: Rowman & Littlefield, 2021.


Article by Francesca Bisi

MA Candidate in Art History and Museum Studies, Tufts University

Weekly Job Roundup

Hello everyone, and welcome to this week’s roundup of exciting opportunities in museums! We do our best to collect the latest job openings, and please be sure to check last week’s roundup. For more opportunities, we recommend the following databases:

MuseWeekly
New England Museum Association Jobs
HireCulture – Jobs in the Humanities in Massachusetts
HistPres – Unique Historic Preservation Jobs
Museum Employment Resource Center
Job HQ – American Association of Museums
American Association of State and Local History Career Center

Northeast

Mid-Atlantic

Southeast

Midwest

Southwest

Northwest

Remote

Keystone Habits: Evaluating with Purpose

Article by: Jackson Rhodes                                                                         

MA Candidate: Museum Education, Tufts University

I interned this summer at a small historic house museum. A combination of factors, namely the museum’s isolated location and a lack of resources, placed it in a precarious position. Multiple staff were hired in the month prior to my arrival, and during my final days in July, I learned of a few staff who were going to quit in the weeks following my departure. Addressing all the reasons for that is worth the dedication of a paper much longer than this. Rather, I’m going to focus on one of my biggest takeaways from the internship, and how I believe it can speak to museums regardless of field or scope. 

Although it was somewhat audacious, this summer I had hoped to institute something actionable that addressed core institutional problems and affected my museum positively. I eventually realized that organizing internal communication, an overlooked concept at the museum, satisfied my hopes. Unfortunately, the best I could do was to leave a list of recommendations on how to organize better communication strategies, even just turning attention to internal communication was monumental. Where bi-weekly staff meetings were the only guaranteed means for cross-departmental dialogue, consolidating communication efficiently can lead to innumerable benefits that benefit the staff professionally and personally.

That realization came from reading “The Power of Habit” by Charles Duhigg. Besides exacerbating my fear of corporations and reinvigorating my self-confidence (I’m not sure how better to recommend this book), Duhigg introduced me to the concept of a keystone habit. These habits are the catalysts of chain reactions that, through discipline and willpower, dislodge and reshape existing habits. Crucial to that is isolating what can reasonably be accomplished. A popular example of what can’t be reasonably accomplished is all of our New Year’s Resolutions: If your goal is too high, the threshold of willpower to maintain that motivation often becomes impossibly high. 

Internal communication as a keystone habit was specific to where I worked; The practice of identifying those habits and routines is what can strengthen museums universally. It’s crucial to note that there are pitfalls to this practice and that the task is complex and sometimes self-contradictory. Whittling down to an issue’s core with “why” statements while retaining awareness of the museum’s entirety of perspectives, and then building around an identified keystone habit was my method of impromptu evaluation. I tried to be as methodical and patient as I could in arriving at my conclusions, which of course I would encourage whenever possible.

Cultural and political reckonings have forced museums to question their good to their communities and, indeed, to themselves. Despite never taking a formal evaluation course, I’ve learned over the past year that organized, impactful evaluation is a theme consistently present in thriving museums. My museum this summer was particularly victimized by uncontrollable factors, but evaluation is within our control and ability. By evaluating with awareness and compassion, museums provide themselves clarity on how best to evolve, serving for the good of themselves and their communities. 

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