Anthropology - Comparison to Today's Museums
a) How are today's cultural heritage institutions (museums, archives, libraries) trying to improve the representation of American Indian materials and cultures?
American Indian materials can now be found in museums, libraries and archives across the United States. Museum curators, archivists, and librarians have begun to work with American Indian groups to find out how American Indians think they should be represented. The following excerpts are from a set of recommendations developed for archives with collections of American Indian materials. Archives are institutions which collect unique materials such as manuscripts and other artifacts for research purposes. Archives often have exhibitions similar to those in museums.
Questions for discussion:
* Who is the audience of these protocols?
* How do these protocols suggest archives (and museums) should involve American Indian groups in the collections and exhibits?
* Did any of the protocols above seem particularly helpful or unhelpful?
* How would these protocols have affected the Exhibition planners in 1893, if they had been called upon to adhere to them?
* How might the suggestions in these protocols change today's ideas about American Indian groups?
b) The Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI)
In this activity, the students will have the opportunity to browse an actual museum catalog online and see the differences between today's catalog records and records from the early twentieth century. Even if the students do not have internet access in class, the Smithsonian's statement about the inclusion of items and original catalog records can be used to provoke discussion about what it is appropriate to include and exclude from an online museum display of American Indian cultures and objects.
In 1893 the Smithsonian Institution exhibited some of its American Indian collections at the World's Fair. Established in 1989, the National Museum of the American Indian is the sixteenth museum within the Smithsonian Institution. Many of the museum's holdings were collected during the late nineteenth century. How has the Smithsonian's approach to exhibiting American Indian materials has changed since then?
In a museum, every item is described in a catalog record. Today most museum catalogs are stored in databases, but records used to be written on index cards in a "card catalog." The Smithsonian has kept the original card catalog records, which date from around 1904. When you search the museum's online catalog, it displays these older records along with the new database records and an image of the item. The NMAI website explains:
(OPTIONAL ONLINE ACTIVITY: Go to the NMAI catalog page and follow one of the "collection highlights" links. Whenever you click on a museum object and arrive at its page, look at the old catalog card in the image gallery. Compare the old and new catalog records.)
Questions for discussion:
* The NMAI is trying to make sure that no culturally sensitive objects are included on the website, but it still mentions that some potentially offensive terms might be visible on the original catalog cards. Why do you think the Smithsonian includes the old card catalog records?
* Do you think the Smithsonian is right to display both the original card catalog records and the new catalog records?
* What differences did you notice between the information provided on the cards and the information in the new catalog?