This interview is the second installment in a new series, Museum Anthropology Leaders, where blog intern Lillia McEnaney will be interviewing various anthropological museum professionals. The first installment in the series was with Alaka Wali at the Field Museum.
This is Part 2 of 2.
Do you have a favorite object in the History Colorado collection?
I have many favorites. I am drawn to Mesa Verde Black-on-white pottery with its beautifully painted designs. I also like objects that make me think about the person who made or used them. For example, we have a coiled basket from the Mesa Verde region with a broken awl tip embedded in it. I imagine the reaction of the woman who was making the basket when she broke her tool.
Image courtesy of History Colorado, Stephen H. Hart Library & Research Center
Generally, what is your favorite thing about museum anthropology?
Learning about the past in multiple ways. We study artifacts, using a variety of techniques and approaches. We consult experts who include archaeologists and the descendants of the people who made or used the artifacts.
Do you have any advice or tips for our younger readers who are perhaps thinking about going into archaeology or museums?
Develop your specialty but at the same time prepare yourself broadly to do the variety of things that need to be done in a museum. In my case, in graduate school, my museum specialty was collections management and my cognate was Southwest archaeology. While my preparation is appropriate for my current job, I am grateful I took classes in exhibit development and that I had a background in education because exhibits and education through outreach are also a part of my job. Also, be sure to do volunteer work or internships to hone your skills, decide better what you want to do, and make contacts in the field.
Have you seen any major changes in our field over the past decade? If so, what were they?
I have seen several changes. Many museums of the past developed exhibits with content that curators thought visitors should know. I see a move now toward developing exhibits based on what visitors know and want to know. That information is gleaned through a lot of visitor testing before, during, and after exhibit development. I see museums becoming vibrant places with exhibits that provide content in a variety of ways (images, text, artifacts, video, interactives, programming, websites, etc.). More and more museums are consulting with tribes in the development of exhibits and programs that relate to tribes. NAGPRA also brought tribes into collections and museums have benefited from learning more about their archaeological and ethnographic collections from them.
Where do you see the field of museum anthropology going?
I believe it will only get better. I see more and more museums collaborating with the people and/or their descendants associated with museum collections to bring their visitors an accurate interpretation of objects and stories from multiple perspectives.
As a relatively new curator, what differences have you seen between your coursework in Museum Studies and your work at History Colorado?
I don’t see a lot of difference. When I reflect upon my overall program in Museum Studies, I think all aspects of it were relevant and prepared me well. In my current position, I have ended up using information from most of the courses I took. More importantly, while in school I was a graduate assistant in the Anthropology Collections Section of the CU Museum of Natural History, where I gained practical experience daily working with collections. My internship and thesis enhanced my knowledge of my cognate area. I was encouraged to join professional organizations and attend annual meetings, which I did and these too helped prepare me for work.