Technology & Objects

The main thread I found today during our visits to the National Air & Space Museum and the National Museum of the American Indian was how technology can affect visitors’ experiences with objects.

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At the Air & Space Museum, I thought this was illustrated through the new interactive “tech” wall in the main lobby. Prior to the demonstration of the technology, I thought the wall was purely decorative. When the staff member began interacting with the wall, I saw just how great of a tool it was. It allowed visitors to “favorite” objects and send them to their phones via the Go Flight app. It also pointed out additional information and even provided a location within the museum (which was my favorite part of the wall).

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Tech wall provides the location of an object, “First Man-made object Recovered from Orbit.”

With that being said, the displays around the wall did nothing to aid the visitors. Banners promoted the Go Flight app, but none of the banners mentioned how the tech wall could be utilized! I would have never known about the tool had the staff member shown us how it worked. I believe better signage regarding the tech wall was necessary to ensure that visitors took advantage of the staff’s hard work. In this case, the technology could better serve visitors and allow them more chances to interact with objects. But it seemed like that wasn’t actually the case. Then, we traveled over to the National Museum of the American Indian in order to learn about their new interactive initiatives.

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Rotunda of the National Museum of the American Indian

Although I didn’t take any photos of the Indian Removal interactive in the “Nation to Nation” exhibition, this was my favorite part of the day. The interactive not only attempted to provide factual information about the Indian Removal, but allowed visitors to feel some of the same emotions the Native Americans experienced while this process was ongoing. The interactive matched choices of the user to real-life scenarios. I thought that their design choice to use “amped-up” stick figures was very powerful and appropriate. It allowed visitors to look past facial features or cultural stereotypes and instead learn about the treaty process. It seemed that the interactive was very compelling and successful in providing an interactive way for visitors to view museum collection objects and grasp large and difficult concepts. For me, the National Museum of the American Indian’s use of technology was more successful than the National Air and Space Museum’s.

Intertwining Objects

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Today, we went to the Smithsonian American Art Museum (SAAM)/ National Portrait Gallery (NPG) and also were able to tour the Lunder Conservation Center. Although I have visited this museum before, I was excited to see the space again. I had forgotten how vibrant the colors were and the variety of the collection.

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“Jane Adams,” National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution. Location: S322

My favorite thing today was the story-telling activity. I chose the Julia Adams (1860-1935) portrait pictured above. I didn’t know who Julia Adams was prior to reading the panel. However, what struck me about the painting was her expression. She seems to be very focused and firm. Instead of looking straight ahead at the viewer, she keeps her gaze to the side and fixed on the road ahead. I also got the sense that she seemed somewhat tired. After reading the panel’s information, I came to the conclusion that it might have been done intentionally. Adams was one of the first women to receive a college degree. In the nineteenth-century, this certainly would have been quite a feat. No doubt, she overcame many challenges in order to meet her goals.

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“Eudora Alice Welty,” National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution. Location: S342

My partner chose the portrait of Eudora Welty (1909-2001), a woman from Mississippi who was an accomplished author and Pulitzer prize winner. Together, we combined the stories of these two collection objects to create an entirely new story. Surprisingly, it wasn’t much of a stretch to intertwine these two portraits.

We presented a mother and daughter story. Jane Adams, acted as the mother to Eudora Welty. From the portrait and object label, we concluded that Adams would be eager to reminisce her struggles and experiences to her daughter during her last moments on earth. As a writer, we believed that Welty would be eager to write down her mothers’ words and later become inspired by them.

Although Adams lived in Illinois and Welty in Mississippi, the story seemed very plausible. The women were very similar; they were trailblazers and a great example of female determination. Both worked hard to complete great accomplishments. I was glad for this exercise today because I realized just how powerful museum objects are. Museum objects can show common struggles and experiences. It was a great warm up for our group project, where we will need to intertwine three museum objects to tell a greater American story.

 

 

NMAAHC- What I’ve Been Waiting For!

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When Phyllis asked which museum we were most excited to explore, I knew that my answer was the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAACH). I’ve heard such great reviews from those lucky enough to get their hands on the museum’s coveted tickets. As we waited outside, the museum didn’t appear to be very large. It wasn’t until we went inside, huddled in the elevator, and began ascending into the history galleries that I grasped the true depth of the museum.

I was so glad that we were able to enter the museum early- moving freely through the intimate history galleries was really important to me. It allowed me to move at my own pace, ensuring that I could see all the objects that were important to me.

My largest takeaway from the museum was how our institutions can ultimately shape our world. The objects selections that curators make and how information about those objects is presented to the public can make for a wide range of institutional biases. Many museums, especially in DC, are focused on the founding fathers. DC landmarks and attitudes glorify our founding fathers and their ideals, but NMAACH makes an important distinction: our fight for independence was glorious, but hypocritical, since our country concurrently denied that same freedom to slaves.

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One of the most striking images in the museum, for me, is pictured above. The words of the Declaration of Independence are hung on for the wall for all to see. Below it, the struggles and accomplishments of enslaved people are discussed. This is truly the “Paradox of Liberty,” as evident in the museum’s exhibit text. While our textbooks glorify men like Thomas Jefferson or George Washington, African-Americans are often pushed to the perimeter. For decades, the American experience and our country’s history textbooks are informed by the accomplishments of white men. NMAACH fills in the blanks, highlighting figures that sacrificed just as much (if not more) than our early presidents.

My favorite object in the entire museum was a book from Phyllis Wheatley, an African-American poet that wrote during the American Revolution. The 18th century is one of my favorite time periods to study and I believe Phyllis Wheatley to be a trailblazer. Many slaves, let alone female slaves, could not read or possess the ability to become a published author. She felt that her voice needed to be heard and her story wasn’t being told by 18th-century American society.

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2014.273.8, The Poems of Phyllis Wheatley. Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, Gift of M. Denise Dennis, in honor of the Dennis Family.

The visit to NMAACH drove home for me the responsibility that museums have to the public. Our museums have historically been colored by a white, European view of thinking. While beautiful and part of our unique story, this viewpoint should not be all-encompassing. It is important to document our country’s struggles, no matter how painful or uncomfortable, to ensure that our American story can be documented as fully as possible.

 

 

Oyster can used by H. B. Kennerly & Son, Inc.

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The object I selected was an oyster can from a company in Wicomico County, Maryland that is on view in the “Cultural Expressions” exhibition. At first glance, this item seems unrelated to African-American history. However, I selected it because I know exactly how it fits in with the rest of the museum’s objects.

Many African-Americans were involved in the recovery of oysters, bringing them back to oyster packing facilities, the shucking of oysters, cleaning, and ultimately packaging into cans such as this one. I work part-time at Annapolis Maritime Museum, which is located in the former building of McNasby’s Oyster Company. Here, I learned about the involvement of African-Americans in this process. At the McNasby location and locations such as H.B. Kennerly, African-American men would head out on boats around 4-5am, use hand-tongs to grab oysters off the bottom of the bay, and would unload later at the building. Inside the building, both African-American women and men would clean, shuck, and package the oysters for consumption.

I actually was able to speak to former employees of McNasby’s one day at the museum. I was told that many African-Americans were specifically involved at McNasby’s because it was one of the few jobs that they could earn decent wages.

Here’s a great photo I found from Annapolis Maritime’s collection. I was hoping to find a photo they have on the exhibit floor of two men using hand tongs as icicles are forming on the side of the boat, but I don’t think it is available online.

 

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Prior to working at Annapolis Maritime, I was pretty clueless about oysters in general. But I certainly didn’t know how hard watermen worked to harvest oysters. All of this work would take place in the winter months during harsh and cold conditions. Oysters, if harvested in the warmer months, take on a gritty taste because they are in the midst of reproducing.

I’m interested to see how the museum highlights African-American watermen. I am curious if they will focus on watermen simply in the Chesapeake Bay or if they will branch out and speak to other locations. Regardless, I’m glad that the contributions of African-American watermen are recognized.