Category Archives: Collections

Connecting to Collections at Summer Camp

We’ve integrated a couple of mini-Artifact Experiences into our summer camp sessions – so far, so good!

Our first camp theme this summer was “World Safari” – granting campers aged 6-13 a chance to explore animals and the environment. Once again using our natural history teaching collection, campers and I discussed what exactly scientists can hypothesize about a given animal given its skeletal remains. Campers in the 9-13 group really enjoyed using different magnifying glasses to examine the bones, while younger campers in the 6-8 group seemed to like feeling the different textures of the specimens. I always try to pull in the senses, so in addition to examining with eyes and hands, campers also smelled the bones – and briefly inhaled a light veneer of dust and discovered the smell of mothballs. Both sessions agreed it was pretty cool to, as one camper put it, “see the empty head of a horse.” (Or, skull, if you will.) 

After we explored some collection items, campers then had an opportunity to mold and create their own animal skeleton, using a combination of Crayola’s Model Magic (a favorite of the campers and myself) and Crayola’s Air-Dry Clay. This second clay worked really well for some of the older campers, who were intrigued by the fast-acting nature of this clay, and its cartlage-like color. For tools, campers were given a range of simple in-house materials such as tooth picks, popsicle sticks, and tongue depressors. I also had some markers available, and a little bit of color nicely blends with the Model Magic. A couple of campers even integrated some of the tools into the construction of their models – which is pretty neat, considering how the fabrication of some large-scale specimens or specimen models are displayed in museums! Some campers were directly inspired by the specimens, while others opted to create a model of a favorite animal, or, in the case of a couple of campers, invent their own animals!

Here are some of the campers’ awesome creations, I was really impressed by all of the creativity and attention to detail!: 

Horse Skull

Horse Skull – Credit: K., aged 10.

Turtle Shell

Turtle Shell – Credit: A., aged 9.

Horse Ribs

Horse Rib Cage (with still beating heart!) – Credit: H., aged 12.

Alligator - Credit: M., aged 7.

Alligator – Credit: M., aged 7.

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Mini Artifact Experience: Giraffe

Mini Artifact Experience: Giraffe

I’m continuing work on enhancing our public programs and visitor experience by integrating our teaching (and occasionally permanent) collection into programming. One mini-Artifact Experience program focuses on the museum’s giraffe skull, jaw, and some of its vertebrae. In this pop-up science demonstration, educators may focus on giraffes, herbivores, and/or vertebrates. Also pictured are magnifying glasses and gloves.

As this program continues to evolve, I’m developing some educational materials to support the teaching collection and enhance our intellectual control. I’m also working on designing a mobile storage and demonstration cart to ease facilitation, storage, and polish the overall look of the demonstration! Thankfully many of the museums and intuitions I have reached out to have provided some terrific resources and knowledge about their own educational or docent cart programs. I am always blown away by the amazing collaboration demonstrated by colleagues and the museum field in general!

As always, if you have any thoughts or suggestions on this project, I’d welcome them! Thanks!

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Encountering Corpses (And following best practices in museum standards….)

Check out this neat blog post from across the pond, which explores interpreting, conserving, and exhibiting corpses! Fun fact: This post was thoughtfully composed by a fellow University of Glamorgan (now the University of South Wales) alum. Small world!

Exploring the Collection...

Museums, in order to achieve accredited status, must adhere to correct standards and policies. Alongside this it is essential to address the ethics of dealing with certain collections items. Collection items such as human remains.

The conversation is an interesting one to have – should museums display and/or store human remains? Do they even have the right to? What gives them that right? What are the advantages, or the disadvantages? And how should display and interpretation be attempted, what is there to accomplish?

This is why I jumped at the chance to attend ‘Encountering Corpses’, a day of lectures and debates presented by Manchester Metropolitan University’s (MMU) Institute of Humanities and Social Science Research (iHSSR) and held at Manchester Museum (MM).

The event aimed to “specifically address how the materiality of the human corpse is treated in and through display, exhibition, sanctification, memorialisation, burial and disposal”. This meant that although…

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Hipster Jones

Hipster Jones

This meme has been around for awhile, but I thought I’d share it here. The last time I saw it, I think it graced the walls of our grad lab…

It’s Friday and Spring Break here at the museum – so things are pretty busy. What are you or your organizations doing to mark this busy time of year? Extra programs? Special presentations? I’m eager to hear your thoughts!

Regardless, when in doubt, Indiana Jones.

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Golden Age of (Re)Discovery – Museum Collections

Golden Age of (Re)Discovery – Museum Collections

If you haven’t yet seen it, check out this article fresh from The New York Times. Even the most well-managed of museum collections may hold a secret or two, as this article on museum collections points out.

As both a museum professional and enthusiast, I found this article engaging, interesting, and perhaps most importantly, a reminder to try and apply best practices in inventories, research, and, of course, interpretation. Easier said then done, perhaps! Regardless, it is always exciting and rewarding to see museums making headlines – especially in positive and exciting circumstances.

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Science Snapshot: Cary Grant as a Paleontologist

Science Snapshot: Cary Grant as a Paleontologist

Cary Grant (right) portrays mild-mannered paleontologist David Huxley in the 1938 screwball comedy, Bringing Up Baby. Engaged to a stern woman (Alice Walker, left), the paleontologist’s world is soon rocked by none other than Katharine Hepburn and a quest to locate a leopard, Baby! There’s a fun subplot involving a missing dinosaur bone too, as well as the museum’s need to secure funds from a wealthy donor. While much of the action does not take place in the museum, it helps set the stage for this classic film. There are some great moments. If you haven’t seen it, I recommend.

Do you have a favorite museum-themed film? There are a few good ones out there – Would love to hear any suggestions. My Netflix queue could use some new additions…

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Citizen Historian: Unique Volunteer Opportunity

Hello, all.

I’m excited to share a neat online volunteer opportunity and educational resource. In January the BBC reported on the digitization of British World War I diaries from the collection of the National Archives (UK). About 25 volunteers scanned hundreds and hundreds of boxes of diaries from military units, and today these are part of Operation War Diary. Operation War Diary allows “citizen historians” or public volunteers, access to these diaries in an effort to catalogue and gain intellectual control of the documents. The website is the result of a partnership between the National Archives, the Imperial War Museums (London), and Zooniverse – a tech savvy web forum to allow for active scientific research by the public.

Through a user-friendly website volunteers can systemically go through and “tag” diary pages for information such as date, location, person, military life, etc. Multiple readers go through each document, the website stresses, so users do not need to feel pressured about exacting 100 % of the information or making a permanent and irreversible error. There’s a brief tutorial on how to “tag,” and users must register an account on the site. Operation War Diary outlines its project outcomes as the following:

  • to enrich The National Archives’ catalogue descriptions for the unit war diaries
  • to provide evidence about the experience of named individuals in Imperial War Museums’ Lives of the First World War project (another exciting endeavor to help mark the centennial remembrance of the Great War)
  • to present academics with large amounts of accurate data to help them gain a better understanding of how the war was fought

I’ve registered and volunteered my time on three separate occasions so far, and I find it engaging and interesting. One thing I should point out is that these are military unit war diaries – so not personal diaries of soldiers. Handwriting is tricky at times, but the pixilation on the scans is very strong, so feel free to use the zoom feature liberally. Another thing I found especially accessible about the project so far is the fact that, again, the website lets you know that no single user is having a final say on specific diary pages. Multiple readers will go through and review each document, so there is a check and balances system in place to ensure accuracy. Finally, there appears to be no minimum requirement of time (i.e. 10 hrs/week), so this is flexible project for both time and energy.

It’s free, easy, and will help historians and the public alike utilize historical documents. Win, win, & win!

 

For even more information, check out Zooniverse’s blog on the project, which boasts updated stats on users, the data, and additional project goals.

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Professional – and Personal – Development

Yesterday I was able to sneak out of the office (during my lunch break, it wasn’t that scandalous) and attend “Legacies & Lunch” a brown bag lecture series supported by the Arkansas Humanities Council. Hosted at the brand new Ron Robinson Theatre in the River Market District, the theatre was a mere hop, skip, and a jump away. The subject of the lecture was in keeping with Arkansas Archeology Month (this month!), and presented by the State Archeologist, Dr. Ann M. Early. With a presentation titled “Big News from Old Stuff” I was hooked even before I sat down. In a quick hour, Dr. Early explored the provenance of several collections within the University of Arkansas (Fayetteville) archeology museum collections – including some with ties to the museum. By focusing on a few key collections, Dr. Early helped tell the story of collections as a whole, as well as highlight significant historic archeology events in the state. Many of the local connections and archeology sites were new to me, and there were a few times when a physical map of Arkansas was presented as evidence where I was a bit confused (which river is that again?). Thank goodness Little Rock is located in the dead center of the state!

 Museum-Collections-Rack-Card

Attending the lecture was very fulfilling. Recently I have been feeling…a bit cut off from academia. Despite visiting several sites of informal learning in our new home, and taking advantage of the documentary selection available on Netflix, I have been missing the scholastic atmosphere of a classroom. You may recall I blogged about brown bag lectures last year around this time, when I was invited to present my own brown bag with the Illinois State Museum. I also miss the element of working with a research museum as well, I think. There is something engaging and invigorating about attending all-staff meetings and hearing about the latest publications from peers! Thankfully, there are several volunteer opportunities I am currently exploring in the area to keep myself professionally active and personally satisfied. I am also hopeful to take a stronger role in my alumni organization as a potential board member, and attend at least a couple of national conferences this year, in addition to other regional and local opportunities. Work is also very busy, with some new programs and events debuting as we brace for Spring Rush with oh so many field trips – never a dull moment. Should be a busy time!

What do you do – in or outside your workplace, to stay professionally active and satisfied? Is there even time? Some days there doesn’t seem to be enough hours in the day or energy left!

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Kentucky Sink Hole Swallows Up 8 Classic Corvettes

A collection manager’s nightmare….Thinking positive thoughts for colleagues and those impacted by the sink hole at the National Corvette Museum.

Auto World Nation

Image courtesy of USA Today Image courtesy of USA Today

Yesterday, a gaping sinkhole swallowed up a number of classic cars at the National Corvette museum in Kentucky. In the past, this type of event may have been saved for a science fiction novel or some tall tale passed along through campfire conversations. But now, sink holes seem to be more and more prevalent, a new story popping up every few weeks.

According to museum officials, the Kentucky Corvette sink hole was detected yesterday at 5:45 a.m. when the museum’s motion sensors were alarmed. The sinkhole, which was 40 feet wide and 20 feet deep, devoured eight classic corvettes from the museum. According to museum spokeswoman Katie Frassinelli, “When you go in there, it’s unreal. The hole is so big, it makes the Corvettes look like little Matchbox cars.”

After hours of media speculation and coverage, onlookers and people close to the museum are…

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Science Snapshot: Artifact Experiences

Recently I proposed, planned, and implemented a new visitor experience program at the museum, “Artifact Experiences.” In an effort to interpret our collection (of +1,500 objects!), “Artifact Experiences” seeks to curate temporary, facilitated displays of artifacts from the museum’s collection that connect with a temporary exhibition, special event, or program. Since becoming a more hands-on science center, the museum’s collection is largely otherwise uninterpreted to the public. Combining my museum collections and education background, this program seeks to safely and carefully interpret the collection as appropriate. I created temporary object labels to specifically connect with the new exhibit, Tech City. I also placed the objects on muslin cloth during their temporary display. 

At all times carefully facilitated by museum staff, interested visitors had the opportunity to don gloves for a careful hands-on exploration. I also provided mini-magnifying glasses for curious eyes to get a closer inspection. The display offered visitors an entirely new opportunity to connect with the museum’s collection and mission, and I had a lot of great questions and enthusiasm from visitors. 

This Friday, February 7th I kicked off the new program with a small display connecting to the new exhibtion in our WOW Gallery, Tech City. Focused on themes of industrialization, manufacturing, and communication (all key elements to a modern city, eh?), the temporary display highlighted a small sample of our truly awesome collection. 

Curated pieces included: 

  • An Automatic Fire Alarm Repeater (c.1899) 

  • Hallicrafters Model 505 Television (1948) 

  • Wooden Planer (c. 1850) 

  • Dalton Adding Machine (1912) 

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    An Artifact Experience

     

    Any suggestions for this program as it continues to grow and evolve? I’m eager to continue to safely highlight our collection while continuing best practices. 

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