Anthropology, archaeology and museum archives

Bradley Hall A/B

Tuesday July 10, 2012

Part I: 10:45-12:15 PM and Part II: 1:30-3:00 PM

Presenters: Dalena Hunter, Eunha Youn, Brian Cumer, Morgan Daniels

Dalena Hunter

Anthropologists and social scientists document subjects in their lived environment, often in their own voices, using a combination of ethnographic research methods. Field notes, interviews, sound recordings, and video recordings have the potential to add a robust dimension to representations of marginalized groups in traditional archives if they are processed with this view in mind. Original data collected in this manner may be used to support research projects in other disciplines, or secondary resources created from the data may influence cultural perceptions and policy decisions. This presentation will present a proposed pilot study to determine the relationship between social science research data collection practices, scholarly use, archival preservation, and civil/ indigenous rights movements.

Eunha Youn

Seeing a Community records through an Anthropological Lens

For last decade there has been a growing movement for archivists to see archives as sites for diverse communities and their memories. Archivists began to talk more about their cultures, rituals, songs, dances, and symbols, exploring their records and memory. However, the more interested they became in cultural records, the more archivists found that they are distinct in meanings, functions, and representation from those of the West. Archives became a space for all kinds of mysteries.

What Said and Foucault term the theoretical appropriation of “the others” in archives has helped perceive the socially marginalized groups and to stress their weakness in positions of power. They reveal how archives build the ideological images of others. However, now in archives, others are no more silent and unconscious historical images who Foucault talked. They are our community clients who walked into archives and communicate with us about their records in everyday life; how should we understand our “others” in our archives? The presenter believes anthropology may throw light on understanding of the archivist in communicating and working with their records. Clifford Geertz, particularly, has emphasized the particularity of each culture and suggested “thick description” as an interpretive methodology for the understanding of cultural others The presentation introduces Clifford Geertz’s anthropological theory to the archival community and discusses its implications for archival studies.

Brian Cumer

This paper, which reports the ongoing research of the author’s dissertation, is a historical examination of the influences that have played a role in shaping archaeological recordkeeping during the 20th Century.  Utilizing data gathered from archival sources and interviews, the goal of this project is to provide analysis of the primary influences that shape the recordkeeping practices of archaeologists in the U.S.  In particular, this report summarizes findings related to prominent, long-lived archaeologists and their recordkeeping practices, and places observations of these phenomena in their historical context, providing a juxtaposed view of their changing technological surroundings.  Through an examination of these materials several observations discussed include issues of the adoption of technology and related issues pertaining to the training of future archaeological records creators.  It is through a better understanding of these phenomena that this study addresses theoretical and pragmatic issues for archaeologists and records professionals in the cultural heritage domain.  There is much discussion in the literature on how technology and policy have impacted the practice of archaeology.  However, there is need for discussion on topics such as speed and level of adoption.  Preservation of archaeological records continues to be a growing need, as entities have emerged to contend with digitization.  This project provides research in an area of great need to both the archival and archaeological professions by providing a narrative chronology of archaeological recordkeeping; describing in detail the external mandates that lead to evolutionary changes in practices for recording archaeological research; and helps to provide a context for archaeologists and records professionals who are dealing with the current changes occurring in archaeological record keeping and records use.

Morgan Daniels

Museum Data Collections: Changing Representations and the Production of New Knowledge

While museums are often perceived as serving primarily educational or entertainment functions, they serve as research repositories as well.  Museum objects hold great potential as primary sources for research in the sciences and humanities, and are used by scholars in a number of fields.  Members of scholarly communities may both contribute to and make use of research data collections held by museums in the course of their work.  In addition, many museums make available metadata about the objects in their collections and consider databases derived from their physical collections to be valuable research resources.  With increasing expectations of data availability across fields of scholarly inquiry, the specific uses of many different kinds of data must be understood.  Relatively little investigation of the uses of museum data for scholarly research has taken place.

To address this topic, I am conducting an examination of two scholarly communities who have developed and used museum collections for their research: botanists using a university herbarium and researchers using the collections of an archaeological museum.  In my interviews with scholars in these fields, I am learning about the requirements of their epistemic communities for advantageous use of museum data.  The underlying research question addressed by this work is:  How do museum practices transform artifacts and collections into data and how are museum data used by researchers to create new knowledge?

I am investigating this question using several methods.  At the two museums serving as my case study sites, I am surveying the changes to records kept about the collections over time, to learn how emphasis has changed in the metadata captured about objects.  I am investigating the types of data that the museums make available to scholarly researchers, to observe ways in which varying expectations for the use of these data are reflected in the presentation of the data themselves.  This content analysis is the subject of the research presentation I hope to give at AERI.  I will present my methods and findings so far, with which I will create a conceptual map of the museums’ institutional responses to disciplinary change in the research use of collections.

In addition to this analysis, my data collection methods include interviews and observations with researchers using the two collections and the staff members who manage them.  From research users, I am learning about their museum research and interpretive practices while from staff members I am learning about the flow of data into collections and the representation practices they use to provide access to the collections. Through these interviews, I am learning about the norms that guide the use of museum data and discovering ways in which the data are structured by museums to adhere to those norms.  Although these interviews will still be in progress when AERI takes place this summer, I hope to share some preliminary findings about researcher interactions with museum representations and data.

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