Thursday, February 25, 2010

Olympic mania!

Here's a neat little history about Olympic picto-grams from The New York Times [via the CBC]. Who knew those little pictures could potentially cause such controversy?

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Anyone living in North America can attest to the annoyance of unpredictable winter weather. Many cities in the USA including Washington DC, New York, Baltimore, and Philadelphia are experience unusual high amounts of snow. The Smithsonian and other museums actually had to closed their doors due to this extreme weather. Nasty winter weather can damage institutions financially and physically. In January, artifacts and part of a gravesite were washed away in Fortress Louisbourg due to a winter storm.

Many archaeological heritage sites in Canada close for the winter season, which, in the case of L'Anse aux Meadows, can span from October to the end of May, resulting in a very limited tourist season. But what can be done to allow visitors access to archaeological sites year round, despite cold winds and snow?

Last week I had the opportunity to visit the many museums of Montreal, including the Montreal Museum of Archaeology and History. What was interesting about this particular museum was the presence of an actual archaeological dig in the lowest level of the facility. The foundations of the old buildings dating back 6 centuries can still be seen, as well as Montreal's first Catholic cemetery.

The floor was covered with a metal grate so there was no chance of tripping over lose stones and it provided a path which directed the visitor where to go. One of the things the museum succeeded at was propelling the visitor back in time. In various parts of the exhibition, technology and models were utilized to show what you would be looking at if you were standing in the exact same spot hundreds of years ago. The Montreal Museum of Archaeology and History exposed visitors to an actual archaeological site and gave people an idea of what an excavation could look like; something not a lot of museums can offer.

The one problem I had with the museum was the placing of signage. Sometimes it was too far away or placed far down, with a small font. Many times I found myself straining to figure out the significance of the brick wall at which I was staring. Also, the sound at the interactive stations was very loud and, at times, alarming.

Nevertheless, it was still an enjoyable and unique experience. Obviously building a museum on top of an archaeological site required tremendous foresight and provides many problems, including the need to protect the site during construction and finding the budget to undertake such a large project. But an arrangement like the one found at the Montreal Museum of Archaeology and History can protect an archaeological dig from the elements and be available to visitors year-round, even during cold February days.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

History never tasted so good


Upon hearing this word, many people think:"rich old white men who drank too much," "politics," "war," "economics," and the tedious memorization of "important" dates. For awhile, I also believed that history was about being able to remember the details of important events and the people [mostly men] that made them happened. Then I started studying history at university and I realized that women [!] actually contributed to the past and so did "poor" people.

The study of history could be divided geographically and could focus on the social, political, or economical elements of that nation during a particular time.In undergrad I quickly became interested in British history, especially examining the lives of female monarchs. Recently I became interested in the history of fashion [in related news, I really want to go to New York to check out this exhibit]. Over the holiday break I found a new historical passion: FOOD.

I discovered this fascinating subject area while watching A Tudor Feast at Christmas, a show my dad PVRed knowing my love of all things Tudor [except the actual show The Tudors].

It was an entertaining and educational show. It followed around a team of British historians and archaeologists as they attempted to prepare a Christmas feast in a castle without electricity replicating the Tudor style. The scholars went boar hunting, fishing, kept the fires going, prepared an elaborate peacock dish, spent hours, even days, making pastries and breads, prepared countless meat dishes, arranged the dining hall, and served the guests.

The meal was prepared for a wealthy and prominent Tudor family, so the feast depicted would not be what a typical person of the time would have consumed. However, the three main hosts, acting as servants, made an effort to explain their role and point out any historical discrepancies in what they were doing. For example, some of the ingredients used in the pastries were too expensive to trust with a servant and in many cases, the responsibility of preparing certain dishes which utilized these prized ingredients fell to the lady of the household.

Unfortunately, the audience never got to hear how the food tasted. Personally, I've never feasted upon peacock and I wonder if it tastes like chicken...

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Egypt is on a role...

Now, as outlined in a recent CBC article, Egypt is attempting to repatriate the bust of Nefertiti from Germany. Egyptian authorities are on a roll and museums with extensive Egyptian artefact collections must be shaking in their boots. I'll have to keep an eye on this situation... it could get very interesting.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Quick Update!

In the past few days I came across two articles that relate to topics I have recently discussed. To get another opinion or want to find out more click away!

- Someone else loves the Terra Cotta Warriors as much as I do!

- Repatriation in action!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Hey Rosetta Stone!

I think people underestimate the amount of controversy that can happen within the walls of a museum. Of course, with recent strikes at museums in Ottawa and Paris, the public is slowly become aware that museum communities are not cold, comatose, and static institutions but are willing to fight for themselves and the collections of which they are entrusted.

This is becoming especially apparent when looking at repatriation. I developed an interest in this subject after writing a paper about it for my Debates in Archaeology class. I mostly looked at the efforts of Natives Americans to reclaim the remains of their ancestors, which can be found in museums across the world.* Countries, states, provinces, and museums all have different policies regarding returning Native remains to their ancestors and it is a very controversial subject that has no easy solution. Much of the controversy surrounds trying to prove that the remains are genetically or culturally linked to the Tribe that is trying to secure their release.

Human remains are only part of the repatriation debate. I don't think many people realize that many artifacts found in the Western World's larger museums were essentially "stolen" from other countries during war, invasion, and smuggling. An excellent example of this is the famous Rosetta Stone. Since passing through several hands, including Napoleon, the Rosetta Stone can now be found at the British Museum, however, according to a recent article Egypt would like to see the famous stone back home. British museum professionals seem reluctant to part with the Rosetta Stone, claiming it will not receive the proper care and protection if it was to be put on display in Egypt.

However, the
BBC states that Egyptians museum professionals are willing to negotiate and hopefully reach a compromise with their British counterparts. This is a fairly high profile case and will be closely watched by those governments who are also thinking about making a case for the repatriation of their country's national treasures. The Rosetta Stone could unwillingly set the standard for international repatriation.

And now... I present the inspiration for the title of this post, Hey Rosetta! is an awesome Canadian band... check them out!

*Colonialism plays an important role in the repatriation debate. Many of the artifacts under debate, especially the remains of Native Americans, found in museums in Britain, Canada, and the United States were taken during times of conflict, when a stronger power was trying to dominate the original inhabitants. An example of this in Canada would be when Natives were pushed onto reserves. Many of their burial sites were poorly excavated and the remains of their ancestors were shipped to museums across the world. The fact that most of these museums still have these remains serves as a reminder to the days of colonialism.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

iPhones, Museums, and You

I remember a gr. 6 field trip to visit Casa Loma in Toronto. As part of the tour we were given listening devices that resembled a Walkman (or a portable audio cassette player) that guided us through the rooms, noting neat facts and pointing out special objects. I can't quite remember, but I strongly suspect it was not an overly enthusiastic commentary and probably wasn't made for the attention span of your average pre-teen. I quickly abandoned the audio guide and made my own way through the rooms, awed at their grandeur but ignorant of their importance.

I recently read an article that declared iPhones and "apps" the technology of choice for museums, like the Victoria and Albert Museum and art galleries, that are attempting to enhance the exhibit-viewing experience. Visitors can download apps that give tours, provide additional information and interactive 3-D images of various artifacts.

Besides being only available to iPhone owners and having to pay for the application, I think this is a fantastic idea. It allows people to interact with exhibits without having to physically touch the the artifact. An interactive map could ensure that you don't miss any aspects of the museum or gallery. It also cuts back on the use of paper, since many museums still give out maps, which at the end of the day can be found littered all over the museum.

It would be great if this app could help advertise related or upcoming exhibits. For example: if you indicated that you liked one particular artist or themed exhibit, the app could suggest other areas of the museum or institutions that relate to this interest.

People love technology and showing off their latest gadget. Bringing iPhones into museums gives people an excuse to show off their fancy phones, but most importantly, brings audio tours into the 21st century with cool graphics, hopefully capturing the attention and imagination of adults and 6th graders alike.