Category Archives: Research

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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World Autism Awareness Day – April 2

Autism Awareness Day!

Autism Awareness Day!

Ignore the glossy-eyed look – it’s 7:30 AM and the coffee hasn’t kicked in yet. Traffic was minimal, and I got to work too early – enough time to quickly share a post!

Today is Autism Awareness Day, and one of our new staff members crafted some homemade Autism Awareness Day pins. Our staff is excited to help spread awareness, and this highlights not only a positive and supportive community, but also an openness to new ideas and program research!

Several staff show support for Autism Awareness Day.

Several staff show support for Autism Awareness Day. Photo: Courtesy of our awesome Marketing/PR guru

We recently started to investigate low-sensory programming, inspired by The Children’s Museum of Houston. The CMH works to reduce light, sound, and high number of crowds on low-sensory days, and offers specific recommendations for other times of year – i.e. in the afternoons during the school year, or early in the mornings during the summer, when crowds are smaller. This parallels our busy times with school groups here at the museum, specially during this busy spring season and post-testing season. The CMH also offers ear-defenders, to help cancel out noise which may be overwhelming. The website makes a special note on these low-sensory days, and highlights that no music is played. Additionally, it should be noted, the CMH is closed to the public on these specific days.

Does your museum or institution offer low-sensory programming?

What have you found which works – or doesn’t?

As we continue to explore offerings to make all our visitors feel welcome and engaged, I am curious about your experiences! At this stage in program research, we are exploring programs and opportunities at other museums – especially other children’s museums and science centers – and seeking professional insight and experiences. While museums definitely encourage bustling galleries with excited and engaged visitors, this does not always create a positive visitor experience – especially for visitors with heightened senses and needs.

Side note: As you can tell in this early morning shot, my gaze is directed toward my snazzy Brain Scoop poster, which, while decorative, also raises a lot of questions from other staff members unfamiliar with this terrific YouTube program, now hosted out of The Field Museum by their Chief Curiosity Correspondent.

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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!


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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The Directors

The Directors

To help kick off Women’s History and Awareness Month, check out this timely article from The Washington Post which highlights the evolving role of women in museum leadership in the Washington D.C./Baltimore area. Fascinating, inspiring, and thought provoking.  

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Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum (ALPLM)

Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum and Library

Researching manuscripts for the Springfield Art Association. Mmm the smell of archives!

Have you been to a presidential library and/or museum? Which one(s)?

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Hey Girl: Public History Ryan Gosling

This morning I had a sudden thought – What happened to the amazing Public History Ryan Gosling tumblr page? A majority of students in my graduate program followed it during our time in the trenches – er – classroom. As our coursework reached an end in May 2012, Ryan seemed to disappear…

Created by graduate students studying Public History at the Loyola Univeristy of Chicago, Public History Ryan Gosling is a blog using the tumblr platform that pairs the popular “Hey Girl” meme with theories and concepts behind public history. 



The tumblr was an amazing success – easily reaching + 60,000 individuals and creating all sorts of Public History and Gosling dialogues! In an October 2012 post, the creators of the site analyzed the effectiveness of using popular culture and social media as a communicative device for historians. 

So what happened to Public History Ryan Gosling? Well, from quick observation, it looks like the student authors of the blog may have gone on to pursue internships and/or jobs. In their interview, the creators note the “ephemeral nature of online culture” and point out that “Public History Ryan Gosling lost his cachet within months” and by fall 2012 the site was “somewhat outdated and irrelevant.” 


With the Internet’s attention span all of about 20 seconds, this raises the question – How can historians, museums, and other sites of informal learning effectively utilize social media to communicate with the public? One thing is certain – the frequency of updates and posts are essential – as is the quality. 

What are some ways your institution – or cultural organizations you follow – effectively use social media such as Facebook, Twitter, and tumblr? What would you change? 

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Artist Spotlight: Edward Hopper, Nighthawks

Growing up, there was a print of Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks above our family’s computer desk at home. I remember working on papers in high school and glancing up at the print, imagining what the figures would think of my poetry analysis or chemistry report. The figures seemed so lonely, isolated in the brightly lit diner. The colors and structure of the piece emitted an atmosphere almost of tired tension. I was – and am – often reminded of the movies from the 1940s and film noir period. I could imagine Humphrey Bogart or Barbara Stanwyck stepping into the scene, exhausted after a long day and in need of a strong, hot cup of coffee.

During this time I made it a point to hop a train and visit the Art Institute of Chicago and actually view Hopper’s Nighthawks in the flesh.


Edward Hopper (1882-1967)
Nighthawks, 1942
Oil on canvas
84.1 x 152.4 cm (33 1/8 x 60 in.)

Located in the American Art Gallery, this 1942 oil on canvas immediately captures a sense mystery  – Who were these individuals? What were their stories? The Art Institute points out that because the piece has a visible lack of narrative, it also has a timeless quality that transcends its particular local – inviting the imagination to concoct its own tale for the figures in the diner.

With just Nighthawks in mind, I was curious – who was Edward Hopper as an artist? What was his life like? In a 2004 biography written by Sheena Wagstaff, the director of exhibitions at the Tate Modern, London, Wagstaff notes that as a quiet and introverted man, Hopper had a gentle sense of humor and a frank manner. Born in New York in 1882, Hopper studied at the New York Institute of Art and Design, and was greatly influenced by Rembrandt, Impressionists, and engravers such as Charles Meyron. His work shifted between urban and rural settings, utilizing a spare and careful style. Hopper focused his work in mediums such as oil, watercolor, and prints. Nighthawks is his best known work, for additional pieces check out this convenient list. Hopper died 1967, and his wife, who had been a strong partner in his career, passed away ten months later. Much of his life’s work was left to the Whitney Museum of American Art. In 2007 the National Gallery of Art hosted an exhibit, Edward Hopper, which surveyed the artist’s work.

Hopper’s art has inspired countless other works in a variety of mediums from comics to motion pictures. Nighthawks specifically has inspired its fair share of parodies. Check out this 2009 article which highlights several pop culture interpretations of the piece.


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Research, Research, Research

This afternoon I had the pleasure of once again volunteering with a local arts association. I am assisting with an upcoming publication which will celebrate the Springfield Art Association‘s centennial anniversary. My duties in the last few months have consisted of researching the Springfield Art Association’s (SAA) archives and collections. In addition to helping out the SAA, I am honing my own skills in the art museum sector. As research and progress continues, I look forward to helping the SAA in developing and organizing themes for the text and digitally archiving material as appropriate. 

As someone who works closely with volunteers during my job, I find it is really rewarding to be on the other side of that relationship while working full-time. While it can be challenging to find the time, it’s been great helping out! 

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