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Luncheon for directors and curators of air museums from the United States and Canada sponsored by National Air Museum, with Assistant Secretary James C. Bradley.
Gwen Ifill sat down with Lonnie Bunch, the director of the Smithsonian Museum of African American History and Culture, which is due to open this […]
The post PBS Newshour interview with Lonnie Bunch, African American Museum director appeared first on Smithsonian Insider.
National Air and Space Museum director Michael Collins stands in front of the steel skeleton of the new National Air and Space Museum building.
You could call it the world’s most famous boy’s club—an institution packed with male bishops and priests and presided over by a male Pope. But one glass ceiling in the Vatican just shattered. As Rachel Donadio reports for The New York Times, Pope Francis has selected Barbara Jatta as the first-ever female director of the Vatican Museums.
As the museums’ director, Jatta will preside over some of the world’s most significant pieces of cultural heritage. The museums include 54 galleries with artworks by everyone from Vincent van Gogh to ancient Romans and Egyptians. Perhaps its most famous artwork is also a place of worship: the Sistine Chapel, lined in breathtaking frescoes by Michelangelo and the place where of the Papal conclave in which new popes are selected by the College of Cardinals takes place.
Jatta’s long career has prepared her for one of the art world’s most powerful positions. As The Catholic Herald notes, the art historian and graphics expert has degrees in literature, archive administration and art history and has been working at the Vatican since 1996. Since then, she’s risen from prints department head to vice-director.
Her rise is historic, since no woman has ever filled such a powerful position within the Vatican. It also reflects changing times within the Vatican, where Pope Francis has appointed more women to high-profile positions than ever before. As Christa Pongratz-Lippitt points out in the National Catholic Reporter, the Pope has challenged the traditional male-dominated institution’s norms with the appointment of many women in positions of responsibility despite debate within the Vatican.
Nonetheless, women are still unable to serve as clergy within the church, which excludes them from the most powerful positions in the Vatican. That could eventually change, too: Earlier this year, the Pope set up a commission to study the possibility of letting women serve as deacons within the church. But he has also stated that women will never become priests.
As director of one of the world’s most extensive art collections, Jatta has broken a barrier. But what will she do during her tenure there? The Guardian’s Jonathan Jones has a suggestion: Bring the museums’ hidden treasures out of hiding. By opening up the Vatican’s vast collections, writes Jones, Jatta could make an even bigger impact on the institution—and give the world a chance to explore life-changing art that is currently hidden behind closed doors. Either way, Jatta is likely to challenge the norms of a centuries-old institution…one glass or frescoed ceiling at a time.
Stephanie Stebich, executive director of the Tacoma Art Museum in Tacoma, Wash., since 2005, has been named The Margaret and Terry Stent Director of the […]
The post Stephanie Stebich is new Smithsonian American Art Museum director appeared first on Smithsonian Insider.
Photograph is attached to a sheet of paper.
“History matters because it has contemporary consequence,” declared historian Jennifer Guiliano, explaining to an audience how stereotypes affect children of all races. “In fact, what psychological studies have found, is when you take a small child out to a game and let them look at racist images for two hours at a time they then begin to have racist thoughts.”
The assistant professor affiliated with American Indian Programs at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis went on to explain what that means to parents who have taken their kid for a family-oriented excursion to a sporting event with a racist mascot.
“We’re taking children who are very young, exposing them to racist symbology and then saying ‘But don’t be a racist when you grow up,’” Guiliano says. “This is the irony of sort of how we train and educate children. When we think about these issues of bringing children up, of thinking about the impact of these things, this is why history matters.”
Guiliano was among the speakers at a day-long symposium, “Mascots, Myths, Monuments and Memory,” examining racist mascots, the fate of Confederate statues and the politics of memory. The program was held in Washington, D.C. at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture in partnership with the National Museum of the American Indian.
Lonnie Bunch, the founding director of the African American History museum, says this all came about after a conversation with his counterpart Kevin Gover at the American Indian museum. Bunch says he learned that the creation of Confederate monuments and the rise of racist Indian mascots in sporting events occurred during the same period in American history, between the 1890s and 1915. This gathering was one way to help people understand the how and why between that overlap.
“It’s all about white supremacy and racism. The notion of people, that you’re concerned about African-American and Native people, reducing them so they are no longer human,” Bunch explains. “So for African-Americans these monuments were really created as examples of white supremacy—to remind people of that status where African-Americans should be—not where African-Americans wanted to be. For Native people, rather than see them as humans to grapple with, reduce them to mascots, so therefore you can make them caricatures and they fall outside of the narrative of history.”
American Indian museum director Kevin Gover took the audience on a riveting trip through several 19th-century monuments, including four by Daniel Chester French that adorn the exterior of the 1907 Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House, now home to the National Museum of the American Indian in New York City. The French sculptures, female figures representing the four continents and entitled, America, Asia, Europe and Africa, says Gover, send disturbing messages to the public.
Image by David Sundberg/ESTO. Four sculptures by Daniel Chester French on the exterior of the 1907 Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House, now home to the National Museum of the American Indian in New York City send disturbing messages to the public. (original image)
Image by SAAM, A. B. Bogart negative acquired by Peter A. Juley & Son. Model for The Continents: Africa by Daniel Chester French (original image)
Image by SAAM, A. B. Bogart negative acquired by Peter A. Juley & Son. Model for The Continents: America by Daniel Chester French (original image)
Image by SAAM, A. B. Bogart negative acquired by Peter A. Juley & Son. Model for The Continents: Asia by Daniel Chester French (original image)
Image by SAAM, A. B. Bogart negative acquired by Peter A. Juley & Son. Model for The Continents: Europe by Daniel Chester French (original image)
“You can see that America is rising from her chair, leaning forward, looking far into the distance. The very symbol of progress. Bold. Surging. Productive. . . . Behind America is this depiction of an Indian. . . . . But here, what we really see is this Indian being led to civilization,” he says.
Gover describes the Europe figure as regal and confident, with an arm resting on the globe that she conquered. The figure representing Asia, he explains, is depicted as inscrutable and dangerous, resting on a throne of skulls from those murdered throughout the Asian empire. Then, there’s the female figure representing Africa.
“As you can see, Africa is asleep. It’s unclear whether she is exhausted or merely lazy. The lion to her left is also asleep. To the right is the Sphinx, which is of course in decay, indicating that Africa’s best days were behind her,” Gover says, adding that the sculptor was racist, but no more so than the rest of the American culture at that time that agreed with these stereotypes. Near the end of his career, French designed the statue of Abraham Lincoln that sits within the Lincoln Memorial, just a short walk from where the symposium was held.
Such public monuments were created in the same period that mascots came into being, such as the Cleveland Indians baseball team which got its name in 1915. Gover notes that it is one of the few mascots that became more racist over time, culminating in the insanely grinning, red-faced, Chief Wahoo. Beginning next year, Major League Baseball says the team will stop using what many find to be an offensive logo on its uniforms, saying that the popular symbol is no longer appropriate for use on the field.“Racism and bigotry are not simply expressions of hate and animosity. They are instruments of broad political power," says Ray Halbritter. (Leah L. Jones, NMAAHC )
Most universities, have stopped using Native American team names, including the University of North Dakota which changed its name from the Fighting Sioux to the Fighting Hawks in 2015.
But many other teams, including the N.F.L.’s team in Washington D.C., have resisted increasing pressure to do so. Gover has been vocal in his opposition.
Team owner Daniel Snyder has vowed never to change its name, despite a suggestion from President Barack Obama that he do so, claiming it is actually a tribute. In fact, a 2016 Washington Post poll found that nine out of ten Native Americans were not bothered by the name activists refer to as the R-word. Ray Halbritter, whose Oneida Indian Nation is the driving force behind the Change the Mascot campaign, explains why he finds the term offensive.
“Racism and bigotry are not simply expressions of hate and animosity. They are instruments of broad political power. Those with political power understand that dehumanizing different groups is a way to marginalize them, disenfranchise them, and keep them down,” Halbritter says, adding that the name originated with one of the team's previous owners, George Preston Marshall, who held segregationist views. He notes that the team was the very last to sign African-American players, and that its name remains offensive to many, but particularly to Native Americans.
“This team’s name was an epithet screamed at Native American people as they were dragged at gunpoint off their lands,” Halbritter explains. “The name was not given to the team to honor us. It was given to the team as a way to denigrate us.”Ibram X. Kendi, described what it was like arriving in Manassas, Virginia, as an African-American high school sophomore to tour Manassas National Battlefield Park and seeing Civil War reenactors swarming to the park to recreate Confederate victories. (Leah L. Jones, NMAAHC )
Historian Guiliano pointed out that at the start, before 1920, colleges and universities as well as sports teams began taking on names ranging from the “Indians” and the “Warriors.” But she says they didn’t become tied to a physical mascot, performing and dancing until the late 1920s and early 1930s.
“When you look across the nation, there’s sort of this groundswell beginning in 1926, and really by the early 1950s it proliferates everywhere,” Guiliano explains. “When those images are getting created. . . they’re doing it to create fans, to bring students to games, to get donors. But they’re drawing on a lot older imagery. . . . You can literally take one of these Indian-head images we use as mascots and you can find newspaper advertisements from the early 1800s when they’re using those symbols as advertisements for the bounties the federal government put on Indian people.”
She says the federal government had a program where it offered rewards for scalps for men, women and children, and the Indian-head symbols were signs that you could turn in your scalp here and be paid.
The movement to take down Confederate monuments is obviously mired in the pain of the memory and lingering effects of slavery, and has become more urgent as of late. Such was the case when white supremacists gathered in Charlottesville, Virginia, to protest the removal of an equestrian statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee, clashing with anti-racist protestors and killing a woman in the process.
The symposium’s keynote speaker, American University professor and director of the anti-racist research and policy center, Ibram X. Kendi, described what it was like moving from Queens, New York, to Manassas, Virginia, as an African-American high school sophomore. He remembers tourists swarming to Manassas National Battlefield Park to relive Confederate victories. Appropriately, Kendi titled his keynote “The Unloaded Guns of Racial Violence.”
“I started to feel unsettled when people who despised my existence walked around me with unloaded guns. I knew these guns could not kill me,” Kendi explains. “But my historical memory of how many people like me these guns had killed sapped my comfort, injected me with anxiety, which sometimes went away. But most times it turned into fear of racial violence.”
He says he thought about what it felt like to be surrounded by so many Confederate monuments, and what it felt like to literally watch people cheer for mascots that are a desecration of their people. He also considered the relationship between racist ideas and racist policies.
“I found . . . that powerful people have instituted racist policies typically out of cultural, political and economic self interest. And then those policies then led to the creation of racist ideas to defend those policies,” Kendi says. “Historically, when racist ideas won’t subdue black people racial violence is oftentimes next. . . . So those who adore Confederate monuments, those who cheer for the mascot are effectively cheering for racial violence.”“History matters because it has contemporary consequence,” declared historian Jennifer Guiliano. (Leah L. Jones, NMAAHC)
Some at the symposium wondered whether Confederate monuments should be removed or covered, as they have been in some of the nation’s cities. But the African-American museum’s director Bunch isn’t sure that is the way to handle the controversy.
“I think as a historian of black America whose history has been erased I don’t ever want to erase history. I think you can prune history. However, I think the notion of taking down some of the sculptures is absolutely right. . . . I also think it is important to say some of these monuments need to stand, but they need to be reinterpreted,” Bunch says. “They need to be contextualized. They need people to understand that these monuments tell us less about a Civil War and more about an uncivil peace.”
One way to do that, Bunch said, would be to place them in a park, as Budapest did after the fall of the Soviet Union. Gover doesn’t think that’s the way to go about it. But he thinks events like this one are part of a growing movement, in which institutions like this take a more active role in understanding the nation’s history differently.
Asked if the symposium represented a new path forward for museums to be more involved in hot-button topics of the day, Gover agreed that museums have much to share on these issues.
“The obvious thing to me was that when you have a platform like a Smithsonian museum dedicated to the interest of Native Americans you are to use it to their advantage and tell stories in ways that are advantageous to them. I know you know Lonnie (Bunch) feels the same way about the African American museum,” Gover says. “This notion that museums and scholars and experts of all types are objective, that’s nonsense. None of us is objective and it’s just nice that now some of these institutions are able to produce excellent scholarship that tells a vastly different story from what most Americans learn.”
Gover says some museums have to live under the demand of telling a pretty story. But he thinks now institutions that aren’t associated with a particular ethnic group, including the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the National Portrait Gallery, will now start moving in the same direction as the Native American and African American institutions.
“When you’ve created an American Indian and an African American museum, “Gover says with a laugh, “what Congress was really saying is, ‘Okay. Look. Tell us the truth.’”
John R. Kinard (1936-1989), founding director of the Anacostia Museum, dies after a long illness. Dr. Kinard shepherded the new museum through its early years, built a new museum building at Fort Place, S.E., and set its course as a museum of African American history and culture.
Katharine Lane Weems at the Museum of Science in Boston with the Museum's President, Erskine White, and the Museum's Director, Bradford Washburn
handwritten on verso: Museum of Science - Boston, Left to Right - Mr. Erskine White - President Mr. Bradford Washburn - DIrector Kathatrine L. Weems
As the director of the National Museum of Natural History, it isn't surprising that Kirk Johnson believes that people should make use of his museum's collections. What is surprising is the group of people whom Johnson is addressing: infectious disease researchers.
In a recent op-ed for the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Johnson and his co-authors Diane DiEulis from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Stephen S. Morse from the School of Public Health at Columbia University and David Schindel, also from the Natural History Museum, wrote that researchers and public health officials need to start paying more attention to the vast collections resources available in research institutes and museums, as well as funding these highly valuable historic specimens.
Museum collections can help public health officials identify new diseases, learn their origins, and determine how to best stop them.
Even collections that appear at first to be irrelevant to medical research—including decades worth of dead mice—can prove useful.
In 1993, a mysterious new disease emerged and began killing people in the American Southwest. The mortality rate was initially around 70 percent as doctors struggled to understand what would eventually be identified as a hantavirus, which are a group of viruses known to be associated with rodents.
Nobody knew whether this was an exotic virus recently introduced to the area or if it was something that was already present. To find out, researchers turned to frozen rodents at the Museum of Southwest Biology at the University of New Mexico as well as the Museum at Texas Tech University. Both institutions had collected the animals as part of field biology programs—740 frozen mice were tested, dating back to 1979. It turned out that the dangerous strain of hantavirus had been endemic all along.
By combining this data with analysis of the genomes of hantaviruses, researchers concluded that hantaviruses had been following rodents around in North America for at least seven million years. So why did humans suddenly start getting infected?
The El Niño weather cycle had produced unusually heavy rains, which led to more food available to rodents, causing an explosion in their population. With the human population of the region also at a record high, maximum rodents plus maximum humans resulted in a lot of contact between the two groups.
Access to historical collections made this conclusion possible.Johnson and his co-authors advocate not only for restoration of lost funding for collections management, but also for greater communication between museums and disease researchers. (SI)
"Collections can provide short-cuts to public health responders looking for the origins and distribution of disease agents," Johnson and the co-authors wrote, "but only if the collections are accessible and well documented."
Those "ifs" aren't guaranteed. In March of 2016, the National Science Foundation announced massive cuts in funding for collections in support of biological research, part of a trend of reduced funding for collections that has been going on for years.
Without proper budgets, collections that date back hundreds of years may not be catalogued, digitized or even physically maintained in a manner consistent with modern fire codes. Smaller institutions are at particularly high risk of being pushed entirely into oblivion. But even the NMNH has been reduced from a high of 122 curators in 1993 to a current low of 76.
Chicago's venerable Field Museum no longer has a curator of fishes. Grants and government budget cuts have gradually forced museums farther away from the research and collections management that provide their real scientific value in favor of a focus on entertainment for the public.
Yet biological samples of all types may eventually help to trace and fight infectious diseases, even when originally gathered for other scientific purposes.
Johnson tells Smithsonian.com that the disease which “everyone has in mind right now is Zika virus. Most people would not realize that we have the National Mosquito Collection, which was built for something like this.”
The collection, stored in Suitland, Maryland, is managed as part of a collaboration between the Museum of Natural History and the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research. Thousands of mosquitoes collected from around the world are kept for research by scientists ranging from entomologists to virologists looking to sequence genetic material in search of lurking viruses.
“They are learning a lot about the range of mosquitoes and Zika virus,” says Johnson. “Think about that, you wouldn't be able to do this if you didn't have a collection like that.”
“One of the obvious things about natural history museums' collections, so many new diseases are sylvatic,” says William Petri, chief of the University of Virginia's division of infectious diseases and international health. Sylvatic diseases are those which are primarily transmitted between animals but may also affect humans. Rabies, plague and ebola are all examples.
“Like yellow fever. Same thing for Zika virus,” says Petri. “We know that Zika has sylvatic transmission in Old World primates. There are probably additional viruses that go from animals to humans. The National Museum of Natural History has tons of these samples. We can work backwards if we need to to find animal reservoirs for viruses we don't even realize are there yet.”
“It is a big complicated thing to preserve and archive biodiversity,” says Johnson. “We're just at the beginning of it. It's a big planet and we're still finding new organisms... The human population continues to climb... This expanding population is going to continue to encounter new diseases as people are forced to spread out. There will be more human-wildlife interactions.”
Some of those new organisms are already waiting in museum collections but haven't been identified as new species yet. Every animal on Earth consists of not only its own cells, but also the bacteria and viruses that survive in and on it. Those bacteria and viruses wait in drawers and freezers to be discovered and studied.
There are tens of thousands of institutions holding collections like these—museums, hospitals, universities, veterinary and medical colleges, zoos, botanical gardens, and even private companies, Johnson and co-authors write.
“What I've used personally is. . . viral repositories from people that have been saved over the years,” says Petri. “I've used collections from the the International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research in Bangladesh. That's allowed me to understand some things of importance. We understand now why the polio virus failed in some countries with poor nutrition. . . we discovered that the malnourished children had a weaker immune response to the vaccine, because we had the archive of samples in Bangladesh.”
Losing existing collections means losing information forever. When a new sylvatic disease is found to start infecting humans, new samples cannot tell researchers what has been happening historically.
“You can start collecting now in Central Asia,” says Johnson, “but you don't have the history of collections from the 1800's. You don't have the historic materials there. …One of the challenges is that you can't just start it up, though obviously you can start collecting new materials.”
Johnson and his co-authors advocate not only for restoration of lost funding for collections management, but also for greater communication between museums and disease researchers. The authors “propose a new and interdisciplinary enterprise that will produce new collections of organisms, microbes, tissue and fluid samples,” standardized across disciplines and countries so that information is available to anyone, anywhere, immediately.
“I'm sitting on top of the largest collection of natural history specimens in the world,” says Johnson. “How do I share this? If you're a specialist who works with starfish, for example, you know who the other starfish specialists are. But we don't have a system for doing this with everything.”
Orig. negative: 8x10, Safety, BW.
Lloyd Goodrich, American curator and museum director, 1897-1987.
Orig. negative: 8x10, Safety, BW.
James Johnson Sweeney, American museum director, 1900-1986.
Orig. negative: 8x10, Safety, BW.
James Johnson Sweeney, American museum director, 1900-1986.
"Paul Cadmus: Prints and Drawings," New York: Brooklyn Museum, 1968, no. 21.
Black-and-white study print (8x10).
Orig. negative: 8x10, Safety, BW.
1 photographic print : b&w, 9 1/2 x 7 1/4 in. (trimmed), mounted on 9 3/4 x 13 7/8 in. board.
SI E-Torch, "Kirk Johnson Named Director of National Museum of Natural History, 7/26/2012
Kirk Johnson, the Vice President of Research and Collections at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, becomes the Sant Director of the National Museum of Natural History (NMNH), on October 29, 2012. The Sant Directorship was created through a 2012 gift from Smithsonian Regent and donor, Roger W. Sant. As a Vice President of the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, Dr. Johnson was part of a team that lead the museum and managed its $40 million annual budget. The museum, which receives 1.4 million visitors per year and has a staff of 400, launched a $170 million strategic plan in 2005. As Director of the NMNH, Dr. Johnson will oversee more than 460 employees, an annual federal budget of $68 million (museum's federal budget in FY 2012) and a collection of more than 126 million specimens and artifacts-the largest collection at the Smithsonian. The NMNH welcomes an average of 7 million visitors a year, and its scientists publish about 500 scientific research contributions each year.
In Denver, in addition to his role as Vice President of Research and Collections, Dr. Johnson also served as the museum's Chief Curator, a position he held since 2004. He oversaw the 70-person research and collections division (including curators, registrars, librarians, archivists, conservators, technicians, administrators and assistants) and managed its $3.5 million annual budget. Dr. Johnson was responsible for the museum's collections, and he led the completion of the museum's first comprehensive long-term collections and research plan. He served as a curator of paleontology since he joined the museum in 1991. From 2001 to 2006, Dr. Johnson was the Chair of the museum's Department of Earth Sciences. From 1989 to 1990, he was a postdoctoral research associate in the Department of Botany at the University of Adelaide in Australia. He was a marine geologist with the U.S. Geological Survey from 1982 to 1983, and he has been a research associate at the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture in Seattle since 1991. Dr. Johnson's research includes the study of the geology and fossil plants of the Great Plains and Rocky Mountains from 34 to 145 million years ago. He also studies the Cretaceous-Tertiary (K-T) boundary extinction event and the origin of major ecological communities known as biomes.
Dr. Johnson is on the steering committee for Earthtime, a community-based scientific initiative aimed at improving the resolution of geologic time, and he serves as the associate editor for Cretaceous Research. His professional memberships include the American Association of Museums, the Geological Society of America (fellow since 2002), the Botanical Society of America, the Paleontological Society and the International Organization of Palaeobotany. Dr. Johnson is the author of numerous scientific papers, and he has edited seven scientific volumes. He has written nine books, including his most recent, Digging Snowmastodon: Discovering an Ice Age World in the Colorado Rockies, published by the museum and the People's Press in 2012. Dr. Johnson has a bachelor's degree in geology and fine arts from Amherst College, a master's degree in geology and paleobotany from the University of Pennsylvania and a doctorate in geology and paleobotany from Yale University.
Dr. Johnson succeeds Cristián Samper, who announced his departure from the NMNH in January 2012. Dr. Samper left the Smithsonian to become president and CEO of the Wildlife Conservation Society headquartered in New York City. During his tenure as Director of the museum, Dr. Samper oversaw the renovations of several exhibitions, including the Behring Family Hall of Mammals (2003), the Sant Ocean Hall (2008) and the David H. Koch Hall of Human Origins (2010). He also upgraded collections storage facilities, developed new digital outreach efforts, established the Buck Fellowship Program to train the next generation of scientists, raised more than $150 million in gifts for strategic priorities and served as co-founder of the Encyclopedia of Life, a Web-based global partnership to provide online access to knowledge about life on Earth. Dr. Samper also served as Acting Secretary of the Smithsonian from 2007 to 2008. Jonathan Coddington, Associate Director for Research and Collections, served as Acting Director of the museum between Samper's departure in August and Johnson's arrival in October 2012.