Rehistoricizing Material and Visual Culture

This post originally appeared on The Third Space: Textiles in Material and Visual Culture, an online exhibition curated by myself for the Institute for Curatorial Practice. 

“It is that Third Space, though unrepresentable in itself, which constitutes the discursive conditions of enunciation that ensure that the meaning and symbols of culture have no primordial unity or fixity; that even the same signs can be appropriated, translated, rehistoricized, and read anew.” — Homi K. Bhabha, The Location of Culture (1994)[1]

Historian C.A. Bayly has described the long nineteenth century as one of rapidly developing connections between distant human societies, which simultaneously created hybrid polities, complex forms of global economic activity, and a heightened sense of difference between people.[2] In The Birth of the Modern World, 1780-1914, Bayly focuses particularly on “global uniformities,” tracing the rise of similar forms of state, religion, political ideologies, and economic life in the nineteenth century. He argues that this process of global integration transformed artistic traditions in Europe, Africa, Asia, and Polynesia. Non-European arts borrowed and appropriated European ideas and techniques, while design motifs and styles from around the world made their way into European painting, sculpture, and decorative arts.

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Internship Update: The Third Space in Material Culture

This blog post originally appeared on The Harold, and is part of a series of essays, opinions, and reviews written by students, faculty, and staff of the Institute for Curatorial Practice.

As an intern for the Institute for Curatorial Practice, I am particularly struck by ICP’s ability to bring a wide range of collections into one conversation. I saw this in action during the ICP’s summer program. I received a graduate fellowship that enabled me to attend the five-week program and to lead a co-curated digital exhibition, BODY [IN/AS] LANDSCAPE. My teammates and I created an exhibition that explores how human forms and activities transform landscapes, and what new landscapes are produced by an artist’s intervention in the landscape. The exhibition draws from several collections, including the Mount Holyoke College Art Museum, Hampshire College Special Collections, Smith College Museum of Art, the University Museum of Contemporary Art, and the Mead Art Museum. While these collections are part of the Five College Consortium, they remain separate. But the ICP opens up the possibility of bringing them together. After this summer, I felt inspired by the concept of digital exhibitions.

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body / freedom / art: Rethinking disability through art

This post originally appeared on the National Museum of American History’s blog O Say Can You See

Smithsonian Curator Dr. Katherine Ott invited students in Dr. Samuel J. Redman’s Museum/Historic Site Interpretation Seminar to explore the museum’s disability history collections and write blog posts sharing their research. The blogs are part of the celebrations commemorating the 25th anniversary of the passage of the American Disabilities Act.

What is disability? Performance artist, writer, and actor Neil Marcus encourages his audience to rethink disability as something that is not medical or physiological. Rather, Marcus suggests, “Disability is an art. It’s an ingenious way to live.” Based on this perspective, Marcus aims to live artfully: non-medically, non-stereotypically, and full of soul.

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A Definition Intervention: Historicizing Public History

Meringolo, Denise D. Museums, Monuments, and National Parks: Toward a New Genealogy of Public History. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2012.

In recent years, debates have festered in the effort to define what “public history” means. In an intervention in the “definition debate,” Denise D. Meringolo issues a call to public historians to move toward a proactive effort to historicize and theorize what distinguishes public history from the broader field of history.[1] Meringolo suggests that exploring the history of public history will enable a more thorough understanding of the field. This new genealogy of public history locates the field’s emergence in the efforts of government workers who began to put history to work for the public. Meringolo argues that the National Park Service History Division established history as a public service, and examines the challenges and decisions of these “prototypical public historians” to reveal the ways in which the evolution of government sponsored research and education enabled the creation of the Smithsonian Institute and National Park Service.[2] Continue reading “A Definition Intervention: Historicizing Public History”

Sharing/Shared Authority: Public Curation through “a Kaleidoscopic Lens”

Bill Adair, Benjamin Filene, and Laura Koloski, eds. Letting Go?: Sharing Historical Authority in a User-Generated World. Philadelphia: Pew Center for Arts & Heritage, 2011.

Letting Go?: Sharing Historical Authority in a User-Generated World interrogates the prospect of shared historical authority in public history practice, as a contribution to the “thought leadership” initiatives of the Pew Center For Arts & Heritage. In this anthology, twenty-four contributors examine how museum constituents join in interpretation and the creation of meaning, and what this means for professional museum staff. Shared authority seems to offer a possible solution to the question of how to make history museums more relevant to their communities and more receptive to outside partners, voices, and interpretations.

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