Museum Archipelago
Museum Archipelago
Ian Elsner
A tiny show guiding you through the rocky landscape of museums. Museum Archipelago believes that no museum is an island and that museums are not neutral. Taking a broad definition of museums, host Ian Elsner brings you to different museum spaces around the world, dives deep into institutional problems, and introduces you to the people working to fix them. Each episode is never longer than 15 minutes, so let’s get started.
103. How Computers Transformed Museums and Created A New Type of Professional
Computing work keeps museums running, but it’s largely invisible. That is, unless something goes wrong. For Dr. Paul Marty, Professor in the School of Information at Florida State University and his colleague Kathy Jones, Program Director of the Museum Studies Program at the Harvard Extension School, shining a light on the behind-the-scenes activities of museum technology workers was one of the main reasons to start the Oral Histories of Museum Computing project. The first museum technology conference was hosted in 1968 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. This prescient event, titled “Conference on Computers and their Potential Application in Museums” was mostly focused on the cutting edge: better inventory management systems using computers instead of paper methods. However, it also foresaw the transformative impact of computers on museums—from digital artifacts to creating interactive exhibits to expanding audience reach beyond physical boundaries. Most of all, speakers understood that museum technologists would need to “join forces” with each other to learn and experiment better ways to use computers in museum settings. The Oral Histories of Museum Computing project collects the stories of what happened since that first museum technology conference, identifying the key historical themes, trends, and people behind the machines behind the museums. In this episode, Paul Marty and Kathy Jones describe their experience as museum technology professionals, the importance of conferences like the Museum Computer Network, and the benefits of compiling and sharing these oral histories. Topics and Notes 00:00 Intro 00:15 A Conference on Computers and their Potential Application in Museums 00:43 Thomas P. F. Hoving Closing Statements 01:41 Paul Marty, Professor in the School of Information at Florida State University 02:11 Kathy Jones, Program Director of the Museum Studies Program at the Harvard Extension School 02:18 Museum Computing from There to Here 04:08 The First Steps of Museum Computing 04:52 Early Challenges in Museum Databases Like GRIPHOS 07:00 Changing Field, Changing Profession 08:48 The Oral Histories of Museum Computing Project 11:32 Reflecting on the Journey of Museum Technology 14:12 Outro | Join Club Archipelago 🏖 Museum Archipelago is a tiny show guiding you through the rocky landscape of museums. Subscribe to the podcast via Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Overcast, Spotify, or even email to never miss an episode. Support Museum Archipelago🏖️ Club Archipelago offers exclusive access to Museum Archipelago extras. It’s also a great way to support the show directly. Join the Club for just $2/month. Your Club Archipelago membership includes: Access to a private podcast that guides you further behind the scenes of museums. Hear interviews, observations, and reviews that don’t make it into the main show; Archipelago at the Movies 🎟️, a bonus bad-movie podcast exclusively featuring movies that take place at museums; Logo stickers, pins and other extras, mailed straight to your door; A warm feeling knowing you’re supporting the podcast. Transcript Below is a transcript of Museum Archipelago episode 103. For more information on the people and ideas in the episode, refer to the links above. View Transcript On April 17th, 1968, less than two weeks after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in Memphis, the first computer museum conference was coming to a close at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. This conference was hosted by the recently-formed Museum Computer Network, and had a hopeful, descriptive title: A Conference on Computers and their Potential Application in Museums. At the closing dinner, Metropolitan Museum of Art Director Thomas P. F. Hoving acknowledged that “for some these three days have an unsettling effect” and that “these machines are going to put us on our toes as never before” but summarized, “the whole idea of a computer network is generating momentum, and is forcing upon museums the necessity of joining forces, pooling talents, individual resources, and strengths.” Paul Marty: When I tell students that there is a group that has been meeting annually since 1968 to discuss problems related to the use of computers and museums, they find that hard to believe. That seems like a long time ago, and I guess it is a long time ago. But museums were always on the cutting edge of trying to figure out how to use this technology. Maybe not everybody was on board, but there was always somebody who was pushing that story forward. This is Paul Marty, whose work focuses on the interactions that take place between people, information, and technology in museums. Paul Marty: Hello, I'm Paul Marty, Professor in the School of Information at Florida State University. Professor Marty, along with his colleague Kathy Jones, are collecting stories of the people behind the computers behind the museums as part of their Oral Histories of Museum Computing project. A selection of stories from the project will be published as a book. Kathy Jones: Hello, my name is Kathy Jones, and I'm the Program Director of the Museum Studies Program at the Harvard Extension School. The key question that both Jones and Marty want to answer is how did we go from there to here? Paul Marty: How did we go from a world where curators were saying there will never be a computer screen in our galleries, to a world where when you're setting up a new exhibit the first thing you ask is where should we put the iPads? How do we go from a world where we will never share digital images of our collection on the internet to a world where there are hundreds of millions of open access images in the public domain on the internet by museums? To answer that question, Jones and Marty looked to their own experiences going to the many museum computer conferences that came after. But they both underscore how remarkably prescient that first meeting proved to be. Kathy Jones: That first Museum Computer Network meeting I just want to emphasize the importance of meetings, even that early and now of bringing new ideas to the field. everything evolved based on the technologies that we had at hand. And museums weren't the first to adopt something like a scanner or to do multimedia, but as soon as we saw the possibilities, we certainly began to do that. Paul Marty: I actually just pulled up the table of contents for the conference proceedings for the very first Museum Computer Network Conference. And, there were a lot of papers in there sort of predicting what the future of computers in museums were going to be. And of course most of them were focused on inventory control and this. But there were also people talking about computer graphics and what that was like at the time. J. C. R. Licklider who is the the founder of ARPANET, which is , the original backbone of the internet, was there and spoke about the current state of computer graphics technology in the late 1960s, and , he was predicting a world where there would be digital images of museum artifacts, where people could have an interactive art museum where you would use digital computer images of artifacts. And it took a while for us to get there, but it's wonderful that people were thinking that far ahead in the 1960s. Computers first entered museums as a form of inventory management. Edward F. Fry summarizes in his 1970 review of that first conference, “the rapid increase in the size of museum collections in the United States has in fact reached such a point in many instances that a more efficient means of cataloging than that of the standard index card file has become a desperate necessity.” Paul Marty: Remember the final scene at the end of Indiana Jones and Raiders of the Lost Ark, right? So many of the Smithsonian warehouses look exactly like that and it's really easy to see how things could get lost there for a very long period of time. You have more stuff than you have staff and time to deal with. The early inventory management systems were limited to only a few variables and lots of manual work, as Kathy Jones learned when she started her career at the Florida Department of State. Kathy Jones: I worked on a mainframe computer to be what they called the keeper of the Florida master site file. That was a large database, or is, that keeps track of all of the archaeological sites and historical properties in the state of Florida. Kathy Jones: It was a database called GRIPHOS, and it was used by archaeological groups, the State Historic Preservation Office. There was nothing visual about it, not even images or things like that. It was hardly relational, and every field was just about 80 characters. I mean, this is so long ago, Ian, that we had to use punch cards to do the data entry and then have them read per computer in batch form. Pretty archaic. GRIPHOS stood for General Retrieval and Information Processor for Humanities Oriented Studies – I can’t get enough of the direct naming conventions of this early computer history – and it was actually published by the Museum Computer Network, the organization that hosted that first conference in 1968. Paul Marty: So GRIPHOS was the database system that ran on mainframe computers developed in the 1960s and disseminated by the Museum Computer Network. And part of the goal of the Museum Computer Network was to help museums learn how to use GRIPHOS to organize information about their collections. Kathy, I don’t know if you wanna talk about what it was like at the conferences… Kathy Jones: It was the first attempt at standardizing information, and that was because we had limited fields and limited values, but it did lead to a profession-wide attempt to standardize how we describe all types of information. So not just the art world, but also the history world or the object world. The early systems for cataloging collections were rather rigid, which meant that the museum staff had to get inventive to bridge the shortcomings. This process would repeat itself. Kathy Jones: As the field changed we were looking at what the public needs were, we began to discuss early on where we would fit in the museum. What was our role now? Initially, it was a behind the scenes type of thing with registrars, museum registrars mainly, having to learn a new skill set. Having to be somewhat digitally based, and doing their job now with new technology. Then in the mid-1990s and later we could add imaging to that set. And we had to learn about scanners and what they might do to the art, or how we could use them safely and efficiently to process the image, because we're a visual field. And then we got into multimedia, and both, , in the gallery and online, and another skill set emerged. Paul Marty: You went from physically plugging in computers and wires to figuring out how to present information in a way that can be used by people inside the museum, that suddenly people realize, “hey, there's people outside the museum with all this information as well.” And then this can also become used in exhibits in the galleries and then eventually online. Paul Marty: It's just been a constant process of the museum technology professional having to keep up with those changing technologies, keep up with the increasing demands that keep getting put on them. They have to figure out how to use new technology to accomplish new goals. I think that this entire profession has evolved over the years to tackle these problems. Because when museums started doing this, there, there wasn't, you couldn't go to school for this.There wasn't a job title for this. Kathy talked about registrars. You were organizing the information on paper files behind the scenes and somebody said, “hey, look, we can do this better and faster if we start using a computer here.” And you're the one who had to figure out how to do it. As museum technology professionals themselves, Marty and Jones realized that shining a light on this type of work would be a good basis for their next project. Paul Marty: Kathy and I have worked together on a number of projects in the past. We published a book together back in 2008. We had been meeting to work together on another book for a long time and we had been meeting regularly once a week or so and chatting about different project ideas and I guess it was 2019 when we first started talking about an oral history project because among other things, we were inspired by the 50th anniversary of the Museum Computer Network, and they had done some work trying to capture some voices from the field and some of that history there, and we realized that there was a great need for that particular work. Paul Marty: We were also very interested in the question of how do we shine a light on the behind the scenes activities of museum technology workers? Most of the people who do this job, you don't see their work. You see the end product of their work. You see the database, you see the website. You don't see what they're doing behind the scenes. Like most information technology workers writ large, not only is your work invisible in the sense that if you see me working, I'm probably doing something wrong, but the system that you built is also supposed to be invisible, right? It's supposed to be like plumbing. It’s difficult to work a job where if your work is visible, that means something has gone wrong. And so we were really trying to help both preserve the history and shine a light on that behind the scenes work that so many people don't see. When I’m not doing Museum Archipelago, I work as a computer programmer making interactive exhibits in museums. That should put me neatly into the category of museum technology professional — but I have to admit that I made it to this part of the interview before realizing Marty and Jones include people like me. Maybe it’s just a slight aversion to the term “museum technology professional” which has the clunkiness of those direct naming conventions of early computer history. Maybe it’s actually the perfect term. Marty and Jones invited about 120 professionals to participate in their oral history project, successfully compiling 54 oral histories from individuals whose careers focused on bringing technology into museums. Listening to the stories in this collection, which feature some past guests on Museum Archipelago, I’m struck that the types of problems museum technology professionals solve mirror my own experiences: computers in tight places on the gallery floor that nobody realized needed to be manually rebooted every few days, custom software running long after any who remembered what its for left the museum, and the wire that isn’t long enough to run from the exhibit floor to the server room. Kathy Jones: “What we're doing also lends credibility to that invisible work and really does shine a light on it, bringing it out for the field, but also Paul and I both teach. So it brings it right to our students in a way that I think is important. I, in my museums and technology class, post podcasts for different topics so that my students can hear from Jane Alexander or other people in the field about what they're doing. And I mentioned Jane Alexander because she has been able to really raise the visibility of what she doesfrom the server room to the boardroom. And I think it's so important to see that we can have a voice, that we could be, if not part of th e C suite, that we're getting pretty close to being there so that other people understand what it means to be digital in the museum world now and not take it for granted.“ Paul Marty: We captured stories that people never heard before. These were the people who were making the magic happen behind the scenes. To get their perspective on that was just absolutely amazing. We didn't want to tell a chronological history of the field. That's been done. We are at center identifying the key historical themes and trends that cut across the past 60 years and really drove the field forward. And then telling that story, using examples. In the words of the very people who who did that work. Which is remarkably similar to what Metropolitan Museum of Art Director Thomas P. F. Hoving predicted back in 1968 – that the only way to roll with the momentum that computers in museums generate is to get all the humans together, sharing resources and expertise. After all, no museum is an island. Paul Marty: One of the things that I think surprised me as we went through and gathered these stories, analyzed these stories, was how positive and enthusiastic everybody was about the work that was done. Because you know, in a technology profession, it's easy to be negative. It's easy to say, well, we don't have enough resources. We don't have enough money. We don't have enough time. This is always the perennial problem. Of course, but when you step back and you take the 30,000 foot view and you look at what's been done over the past 60 years. And I think we heard this from every one of our participants. When you look at that, it's amazing how far we've come. And it's hard not to look at that scope and not come away with a positive perspective on what we've accomplished. And our hope with the book that we're writing is to convey that sense of enthusiasm to help inspire the next generation of people who are doing this technology work in museums Kathy Jones: “Ian, thank you for giving us the opportunity to talk about something that we love.” This has been Museum Archipelago.
Nov 13, 2023
14 min
102. Copies in Museums
On Berlin’s Museum Island, four stone lion statues perch in the Pergamon Museum. Three of these lions are originals — that is to say, lions carved from dolerite rock between the 10th and 8th centuries BCE in Samʼal (Zincirli) in southern Turkey. And one is a plaster copy made a little over 100 years ago. Pergamon Museum curator Pinar Durgun has heard a range of negative visitor reactions to this copy — from disappointment to feeling tricked — and engages visitors to think more deeply about copies. As an archeologist and art historian, Durgun is fascinated by the cultural attitude and history of copies: the stories they tell about their creators’ values, how they can be used to keep original objects in situ, and their role in repatriation or restitution cases. In this episode, Durgun describes the ways that museum visitors’ perception of authenticity has changed over time, how replicas jump-started museum collections in the late 19th-century, and some of the ethical implications of copies in museums. Image: Reconstructed Lion Sculpture Sam'al near modern Zincirli Höyük, Turkey 10th-8th century BCE by Mary Harrsch Topics and Notes 00:00 Intro 00:15 Sam’al/Zincirli Lions 01:09 Pinar Durgun 01:22 Museum Island 01:40 Find Divison 02:28 Gipsformerei 03:12 Replicas Jump-Started Museum Collections 04:35 Trending Away from Copies 05:27 When Visitors Feel Tricked 06:00 When Visitors Are Okay With Copies 07:28 Ancient Cultural Contexts About Copies 08:07 Hokusai’s Great Wave 08:35 “Immersive Experiences” Made Up of Digital Copies 09:08 Digital Copies 12:39 Museum Archipelago 97. Richard Nixon Hoped to Never Say These Words about Apollo 11. In A New Exhibit, He Does. 13:32 How Should Museums Present Copies in Their Collections? 14:36 Outro | Join Club Archipelago 🏖 Museum Archipelago is a tiny show guiding you through the rocky landscape of museums. Subscribe to the podcast via Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Overcast, Spotify, or even email to never miss an episode. Support Museum Archipelago🏖️ Club Archipelago offers exclusive access to Museum Archipelago extras. It’s also a great way to support the show directly. Join the Club for just $2/month. Your Club Archipelago membership includes: Access to a private podcast that guides you further behind the scenes of museums. Hear interviews, observations, and reviews that don’t make it into the main show; Archipelago at the Movies 🎟️, a bonus bad-movie podcast exclusively featuring movies that take place at museums; Logo stickers, pins and other extras, mailed straight to your door; A warm feeling knowing you’re supporting the podcast. Transcript Below is a transcript of Museum Archipelago episode 102. For more information on the people and ideas in the episode, refer to the links above. View Transcript Welcome to Museum Archipelago. I'm Ian Elsner. Museum Archipelago guides you through the rocky landscape of museums. Each episode is rarely longer than 15 minutes, so let's get started. On the Museum Island in Berlin, four stone lion statues perch in the Pergamon Museum. Three of these lions are originals — that is to say, lions carved from dolerite rock between the 10th and 8th centuries BCE. And one is a plaster copy carved a bit over 100 years ago. Pinar Durgun:  When you see these lions, you cannot tell the difference which one is a copy, which one is original. And lately, curator Pinar Durgun has been wondering how visitors feel about that copy. Pinar Durgun: But when I tell visitors, this one is a copy. So how do you feel about that? How do you feel about a copy being here? Do you feel like you've been tricked? Pinar Durgun: And if I ask a question like this, they say yes. They say, I don't like copies. Durgun works at the Pergamon Museum, where those Gate lions from Samʼal are now perched -- well, some of them. Pinar Durgun: My name is Pinar Durgun. I'm an archeologist and art historian, currently working at the Pergamon Museum as a curator. Pinar Durgun: We're on the Museum Island. And it's funny because you always say museums are not islands, but we are literally on the Museum Island, one of the five museums on the museum island, but they're all kind of interconnected, I would say. Ian Elsner: That's terrific. They're in their own little archipelago. Pinar Durgun: Yeah, exactly. The Gate lions from Sam’al, also known as Zincirli in Southern Turkey, were excavated in the early 1890s and came to Berlin through a colonial-era practice called Find Division, which was a system to divide up ownership of excavated artifacts. Pinar Durgun: So during the Ottoman period when excavations were happening, so for instance, Germans or other foreigners were excavating in the Ottoman Empire, there were some agreements between the Sultan and the Kaiser here in Germany. So they were basically dividing objects that they were finding, and half of them would come here and half of them would stay in Istanbul. Of course, the extent to which this division was carefully adhered to depended on the local and international power dynamics, so in many cases it was more than half. But when an original artifact was to remain in the Ottoman Empire, the excavators would use a molding shop to make a copy. Pinar Durgun: The Berlin State Museums has its own plaster workshop called Gipsformerei. And this is a very old institution. I think it's one of the oldest in the world. It's 200 years old and the people who work at the Gipsformerei create these copies that look almost exactly like the originals. Pinar Durgun: And they take pride in creating copies that are skillfully made, skillfully prepared. So it is difficult to distinguish between originals and copies. The late 19th century was a time when the modern museum was taking shape, and institutions all around the world were seeking to fill collections. And copies, particularly paster copies from skilled molding shops like Gipsformerei made that possible. Pinar Durgun: So this interest in having ancient objects in museums or in university collections was growing as an idea based on education basically. So you would acquire a copy for your art school, let's say, and then people who could draw these Roman or Greek statues that they would otherwise never see. Now we can travel and see these statues, but think about a time when you could not do that, where you could not go see the statue of David whenever you wanted to, or you couldn't Google a picture of it. Canonical highlights or quote unquote masterpieces were being distributed around the world in universities, museums, and schools. Pinar Durgun: And this is a time where museums were basically coming to being, right? They were being formed. So a lot of the collections were built through these copies. The Metropolitan Museum, for instance, bought a lot of copies. The idea behind acquiring these copies was to allow museums like the MET to showcase a “survey of art history” for the interested public, more like a textbook. And many museums still follow this model. Pinar Durgun: Science museums, natural history museums we're so used to seeing reconstructions or copies of things or for instance, things that are like blown out of scale. It's a copy. It's not an original, but it communicates information that you cannot otherwise communicate. So people are on board with those things. But during the 20th century, many history museums trended away from showcasing copies. Museums that built up collections based on copies started giving the copies away to smaller collections or smaller universities as the perceived value of a copy waned and the cultural aura around an original increased. As Durgun says, the visitor's attitude of feeling tricked when presented with a copy might have something to do with the shift – but even that is not clear. Pinar Durgun: There was a recent survey, I think it was 2020 that they did in maybe nine German museums to see how visitors react to copies. And it was very mixed. There was no solid conclusion that people don't like copies or people like copies. It's very much context dependent and how you present information. Pinar Durgun: The only thing that they don't like is being tricked, and I think that's also a challenge for us curators. How do you make people feel like they're not being tricked, and how do you signal that this is a copy? But it’s not like the lion is trying to hide the fact that’s it's a copy. The label on the plaster copy clearly indicates that it is a copy. So if a visitor is feeling tricked, that feeling might be based on a visitor's expectations of what they might see when they enter a museum. Of course, museums are responsible for setting those expectations. Pinar Durgun: When I say for instance, think about a copy of an object that is lost during the war. Because this also happened, right? Some of the Berlin museums got destroyed during World War II. Some of the objects got lost. So what if we only had a copy of this object, and then we have that in the museum. Then their approach changes a little bit. Or if I say, let's say, we have an object in this collection, but it is requested from the country of origin, and it's returned, and we keep a copy of that object in the galleries and talk about this whole process of restitution, then they're like, yes, you know, that makes sense. That would make sense. Or for instance, if we have a copy and then you can go touch this copy. Recently one of our conservators here created a copy of one of these dragon figures from the Ishtar Gate as a touchable copy. The label encourages you to go touch it. And in this case, everyone loves it. Everyone loves to touch things in museums, as you know. So if there's a copy that you can touch, everyone is on board with copies. So it really depends on how you present the copy to the visitors. Here, Durgun is focused on archaeological objects, and underscores that coping indigenous objects or ethnographic collections is a completely different issue. In those cases, the indigenous groups need to be involved in the decision to make copies at all. But even with archaeological objects, the challenge of presenting copies to museum visitors includes understanding different cultural attitudes about the perceived value of copies. Pinar Durgun: The other cultural context is the Mesopotamian, the ancient cultural context. How did people perceive or think about copying in ancient Mesopotamia? So I'm kind of looking into that as well, because in ancient Mesopotamia, for instance, an image of a person, or a God or a king is not just an image, it's not just a copy of that thing, it's the thing. Pinar Durgun: It stands in for the thing. So when you make a statue of a king there are all these rituals that go around it, and then the statue becomes the king. So there's a different way of thinking about images and objects in ancient Mesopotamia. So how do I bring in that while presenting these copies. Pinar Durgun: We also treat some of the artworks in the same way. For instance, if you think about the Hokusai Great Wave, right? There are multiple copies of this because it's a wood block print that was produced, in multiple versions. Pinar Durgun: So the British Museum has multiples of them. But when you see the Great Wave in a museum, you treat it as this is an original object, even though you can think of it as like a photocopy in some ways, right? But you don't treat it that way. There’s even a whole industry of immersive exhibitions of famous artists whose work is in the public domain, all displayed as digital copies. Pinar Durgun: If you think about these more commercial, immersive exhibits that are popping up everywhere, like the Monet's Garden or Van Gogh's World or something like this. And then you just go to this exhibit and there's not a single original painting. Everything around you is a copy, is a digital copy. You're looking at screens, and people don't mind paying 20, 25 euros to go see copies. The perceived value of a copy also looks different in a computer. Copying is the native function of digital systems – and a digital copy is a perfect replica. The computer doesn’t have a way to know what is an original file, and I’m not sure what that would even mean. Even the concept of moving a file from one location to another in a computer system, which has a clear physical-world analog, is actually achieved on many systems by copying the file to another location, confirming that the two files are identical, and deleting the first. There seem to be two ways that the digital world intersects copies in museums. The first is translating something in the real world to digital information and back again. A process achieved by digital photographs, by 3D scans and 3D printers. Here the marginal cost of storing, distributing, and copying approaches zero. Pinar Durgun: I feel like with 3D scanning and copying, because it was such an amazing opportunity to create copies and make things more accessible or documenting things, we all jumped on it really fast before even thinking about what are the ethical implications of copying? If the purpose is we are scanning this building, or this, let's say, open air relief because we wanna preserve this information for the future because it's exposed to the weather and the rain and everything. So it may not preserve in let's say 20, 30 years. Then you need to think differently. It is probably good to have some sort of documentation of these objects because, Wars always happen, catastrophes always happen. The National Museum in Brazil had a big fire a couple of years ago, and a lot of objects no longer exist. So if there was a digital scan of them, maybe that could have been good. Pinar Durgun: So it has benefits obviously, but then we have to figure out do the benefits justify the fact that there are all these problematic ways of using copies. As a museum, you legally have the right to scan something. You don't really have to ask anybody.But then some of the objects that are in museums come from other places. And then who is the owner of the scan or the copy or who gets to have a saying on what can be and cannot be copied is also I think a question that we haven't really figured out, both like ethically and legally. Pinar Durgun: You see these replicas in museum shops that basically copy the original objects on display, and I am guilty of this as well. I love buying little replicas of museum objects. But in the museum, it makes money out of this, so what is the ethical implication of this is another question. Do you actually own these things? And do you own the rights to replicate these things, even if it's for education, even if it's not commercial. I find that a difficult question to answer. The second way that the digital world intersects copies in museums is the increasing amount of culture that’s digital-only. The historical record contained in online forum posts or art that was made and distributed digitally doesn’t really have an original. There are now digital tools that recreate scarcity in the digital world, that reintroduce the concept of an original to a digital system. There’s no question who owns a bitcoin for example, and there’s no way to copy your bitcoin and end up with two bitcoins, like you could with any other digital file. NFTs are a way to apply that same scarcity to an arbitrary artwork or piece of information. Pinar Durgun: Ten years ago were we this much obsessed with authenticity? is a question that I'm trying to ask myself, I'm trying to find more writings about it because I feel like this whole, like NFT or this, AI or the deep fakes, I think you wrote about this as well. Pinar Durgun: There is this anxiety around things not being authentic and original. So is that the reason why we feel a little bit anxious about copies? It seems like there has always been some sort of anxiety around copies. Maybe not in these early years of the establishment of the museum collections because then they didn't have original objects, so the only thing they had was the copies. But again, like even from like 20 years ago, there are these writings about original objects having their own aura or you having some sort of like genuine experience with the original, whereas you don't have that with the copy. So where does this leave museums? How should museums present copies in their collections? For Durgun, it might mean actually highlighting the history of the copy itself – how it came to be, what was the reason for making the copies. In other words, valuing the copy as an object with its own history, puncturing the common expectation of museums as public treasure boxes filled with priceless artifacts. Pinar Durgun: I feel like one of the best ways to open up museums and make them a little bit more welcoming is the possibility that the museum would acknowledge the fact that they're not the sole authority. And saying that we don't know what to do with copies. We have these now in our collection and we're trying to find a way to make them useful. But what do you think about them? Pinar Durgun: I think this is a better way of moving forward. Maybe some people hate it, but we should also say that for some people,copies may not have any kind of value. But here are maybe some ways that they can be valuable and useful. So showing these different kind of perspectives on the issue of copies, I think is also a good step forward. This has been Museum Archipelago.
Jul 31, 2023
14 min
101. Buzludzha Always Centered Visitor Experience. Dora Ivanova is Using Its Structure to Create a New One.
Since it opened in 1981 to celebrate the ruling Bulgarian Communist Party, Buzludzha has centered the visitor experience. Every detail and sightline of the enormous disk of concrete perched on a mountaintop in the middle of Bulgaria was designed to impress, to show how Bulgarian communism was the way of the future – a kind of alternate Tomorrowland in the Balkan mountains. Once inside, visitors were treated to an immersive light show, where the mosaics of Marx and Lenin and Bulgarian partisan battles were illuminated at dramatic moments during a pre-recorded narration. But after communism fell in 1989, Buzludzha was abandoned. It was exposed to the elements, whipped by strong winds and frozen temperatures, and raided for scrap. Buzludzha has been a ruin far longer than it was a functional building, and in recent years the building has been close to collapse. Preventing this was the initial goal of Bulgarian architect Dora Ivanova and the Buzludzha Project, which she founded in 2015. Since then, Ivanova and her team have been working to recruit international conservators, stabilize the building, and fundraise for its preservation. But Ivanova realized that protecting the building isn’t the end goal but just the first step of a much more interesting project – a space for Bulgaria to collectively reflect on its past and future, a space big enough for many experiences and many futures. In this episode, we journey to Buzludzha, where Ivanova gives us hard hats and takes us inside the building for the first time. We retrace the original visitor experience, dive deep into various visions for transforming Buzludzha into an immersive museum, and discuss how the building will be used as a storytelling platform. Image: Dora Ivanova by Nikolay Doychinov Topics and Notes 00:00 Intro 00:15 Buzludzha has always centered the visitor experience. 01:00 “A Tomorrowland in the Balkan mountains” 02:40 The Original Visitor Experience 03:02 Dora Ivanova 03:15 Museum Archipelago Episode 47 03:35 Entering the Building 04:25 How to Stabilize the Roof 05:58 New respect for the Buzludzha thieves 06:25 The Inner Mosaics 07:26 Narrated Light and Sound Show 08:25 Moving from Preservation to Interpretation 09:34 Ivanova’s New Motivation 10:20 Buzludzha as a Storytelling Platform 11:10 How Buzludzha Was Built 12:30 Acting before memory becomes history 13:00 Buzludzha’s fate as a binary 14:05 The Panoramic Corridor 15:00 The Care For Next Generation and The Role of The Women in Our Society 16:02 Some Personal Thoughts about a future Buzludzha Museum 17:20 The preservation as proof of change 18:05 “Buzludzha is about change” 19:15 Outro | Join Club Archipelago 🏖 Museum Archipelago is a tiny show guiding you through the rocky landscape of museums. Subscribe to the podcast via Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Overcast, Spotify, or even email to never miss an episode. Support Museum Archipelago🏖️ Club Archipelago offers exclusive access to Museum Archipelago extras. It’s also a great way to support the show directly. Join the Club for just $2/month. Your Club Archipelago membership includes: Access to a private podcast that guides you further behind the scenes of museums. Hear interviews, observations, and reviews that don’t make it into the main show; Archipelago at the Movies 🎟️, a bonus bad-movie podcast exclusively featuring movies that take place at museums; Logo stickers, pins and other extras, mailed straight to your door; A warm feeling knowing you’re supporting the podcast. Transcript Below is a transcript of Museum Archipelago episode 101. For more information on the people and ideas in the episode, refer to the links above. View Transcript Welcome to Museum Archipelago. I'm Ian Elsner. Museum Archipelago guides you through the rocky landscape of museums. Each episode is rarely longer than 15 minutes, so let's get started. Buzludzha has always centered the visitor experience. Opened in 1981 to celebrate the grandeur of the ruling Bulgarian Communist Party, Buzludzha is an imposing building, an enormous disk of concrete perched on a mountaintop in the middle of Bulgaria. Rising out of the back of the disk is a tower, 70 meters high, and flanked by two red stars. Dora Ivanova: It was built to impress. It was built as part of the political propaganda and education as they called it during this time. Its shape looks like a UFO, actually. This is also on purpose because it had to show how the socialist idea is contemporary, it’s the future. Visiting the site, you can still see the care that went into the sightlines – the approach from a winding mountain road, the drama the first time the building comes into view, the photo opportunities of the still-distant building flanked by smaller sculptures. There’s an eerie similarity to some well-designed corners of Disney theme parks, using scale and space and sightlines to transport the visitor – a Tomorrowland in the Balkan mountains. But the original visitor experience didn’t end outside the building. In those first years during communism, the building received tour groups by bus every four hours. Visitors entered Buzludzha through the front doors underneath the cantilever of the disk. Once inside, they were led up the stairs and into the belly of the building, which makes up an impressive amphitheater surrounded by colorful mosaics of Marx and Lenin, and a variety of Bulgarian communist leaders. At the center of the domed ceiling is a hammer and sickle mosaic whose tiles spell out the words, “Workers of all nations, unite!” But visitors haven’t been able to officially enter Buzludzha for many years. Those front doors are locked and grated with metal bars – the worn concrete covered and covered again in graffiti, like the words “Enjoy Communism” written in the style of the Coca Cola logo and the all caps motto “forget your past”. I’ve visited Buzludzha many times over the past few years, but I’ve never been inside. Until now. Dora Ivanova: In the beginning it was open to everybody, but we had to register in before. So it was not open to individual tourism. It was open just to groups who had registered before like a school was coming to visit or the local factories coming and seeing the monument. People will come here and then , they'll go first down the staircase to leave their coats and bags, so you cannot go with them up. And then you'll put something on your shoes because you cannot go on the bright, perfect white marble with your dirty shoes from outside. This is Bulgarian architect Dora Ivanova, founder of the Buzludzha Project. When I first met her in 2018 – and presented her story on episode 47 of Museum Archipelago – she was working on a proposal to save this monumental building. But since then, the scope of her work has increased significantly. Today, after more than three years of work recruiting international conservators, stabilizing the building, and basically running a fundraising and PR campaign for the monument, Ivanova hands me a hardhat, unlocks the grate, and leads me inside. Dora Ivanova: click “And be very careful with the staircase and that you don't fall somewhere.” Because there’s no perfect bright white marble underneath visitors' feet anymore. After communism collapsed in Bulgaria in 1989, Buzludzha just sat there, exposed to the elements, whipped by strong winds and frozen temperatures. The regime changed, Bulgaria headed towards a democratic form of government, and people started stealing anything they could from Buzludzha – the glass from the windows and from the red stars, the copper roof and marble sculptures which were sold for scrap, and the perfect white marble perhaps used in a bathroom remodel. Ian Elsner: Buzludzha bathroom! Dora Ivanova: Yeah, many people have it, I’m sure. Buzludzha has been a ruin way longer than it was a functional building and that’s why Ivanova and her team's efforts have been focused on stabilization. Dora Ivanova: As I was walking on the roof, I was thinking, it's like a very ill person who can still get better. And can still be saved and it can still function. And I think if we started this whole initiative like five years later or 10 years later, there'll be very little less of the building to protect. Protecting the building is a complex process, which requires a lot of coordination between technicians, and a deep understanding of the structure. Ivanova jokes that she used to think saving Buzludzha would take just a month of hard work. Dora Ivanova: At the beginning I was thinking, okay, this month I didn't manage to save the building, but next month I'll save it! laughs Today, the blue sky is clearly visible through the roof of the amphitheater, sunlight streaming through the scaffolding erected to preserve the hammer and sickle mosaic on the ceiling. It’s only now that we can safely walk around with hard hats. Dora Ivanova: So metal sheets like this will fall down and a big pieces of wood like, like this there and bigger will fall. And this is why, on the first place, this building is not safe for visitors because anytime something can fall down, and that's why our task was to, we're thinking could take down only what is needed, but it turned out that everything is unstable and you can just touch it and everything's moving. and also this is like not stopping the water in any way. It's not helping the building because we have just like a metal sheet here, but it, the water falls from the three sides of the metal sheet, so you're not stopping kind thing. Dora Ivanova: We had a ceiling out of aluminum, with rings, many rings, which are missing, which was completely stolen from the very beginning. And the top covering was this copper sheet, which was also stolen in the nineties in a very professional way, by the way. This is absolutely hard work. Now we know it. Ian Elsner: You have new respect. Dora Ivanova: Well, I'm very respectful to the thieves. It was very hard! Surrounding the amphitheater are colorful mosaics– this is the inner mosaic circle, we’ll get to the outer mosaics a little later. Yes, here we see Marx and Lenin, but there’s also a mural called The Victory of September 9th, 1944 – when the new Bulgarian communist state was declared, and another called The Fight depicting workers with pitchforks defeating a fire-breathing beast. Dora Ivanova: There was a partisan fight, anti-fascist. And then the idea is that three generations are gathering at Buzludzha and that the fathers were working or fighting for freedom. And then the sons were fighting for socialist freedom. And so they wanted, that's absolutely propaganda stuff. So they connect to the history, which is very well acknowledged and which is very well perceived by the public and show that communism is the final best stage of the entire Bulgarian human history. Dora Ivanova: So something like this. So that they were using everything on the way to make their point. Visitors to Buzludzha in the 1980s would have stood in the amphitheater and watched a narrated light and sound show projected onto the inner mosaics, lighting up certain figures at dramatic moments in the story. Dora Ivanova: So the people will be watching this show of light and sound. They were standing, they were just watching from here, the mosaics. They were also not going to the mosaics to see them up close. So this was the place to experience the building. So there was a voice and there was lightning on the different spots and they were telling for different images. Ian Elsner: And the computer equipment to play this recording. That was all stolen soon after? Dora Ivanova: Yes, absolutely everything, yes. we don't have the video and we don't have the text as well. But Ivanova thinks that it’s only a matter of time until these types of details surface. Up until now, ensuring that the mosaics don’t fall any further and the ceiling won’t collapse has been her team’s main concern. Dora Ivanova: I'm sure over the time we may might get to this information as well. But this is again connected to the topic of interpretation. Until now we are very focused on the structural integrity of the building if it stands and if the music falls. And we had all our attention on those first topics, and I'm sure that's when we dig deeper into the story that we can find information like this. Dora Ivanova: I'm not sure we'll find all of them but we had a lot of archives, mainly drawings and mainly construction papers. So not really a lot about the mosaics or the artwork because it was a private archive and not so much about the visitors' experience. Dora Ivanova: There are three tour guides, who were working here who are telling the stories. And one of the lady who wrote down everything, she knew it until today. Like, all the words and how it was and what. So we have a little bit from that. These tour guides, using the building as intended, would have been reading from a script that the communist party approved – that version of history where communist bulgaria was the end of history. But Ivanova and her team realized that the preserved building could host the stories of the people in the audience, presenting as many narratives about communism as there were lived experiences. Dora Ivanova: In the beginning it was different. In the beginning I was thinking, so now we go there and we preserve this building and it'll go very nice and I'll be very happy because the building will be preserved. But with the time I realized it's actually not the motivation line and the purpose line a nd the idea of the whole thing. Dora Ivanova: Of course, we want to preserve this building. But the goal is not the entire purpose of the journey. So the journey is the purpose. Now she recognizes that protecting the building isn’t the end goal but just the first of a much more interesting project – a space for Bulgaria to collectively reflect on its past and future, a space big enough for many experiences and many futures. Dora Ivanova: What we really want is a storytelling platform and that's the building tells stories and this is the best place to tell these stories and to allow the different views, to allow the criticism to allow different points of view. Dora Ivanova: I mean, for some it was the labor of their life, and of course they're touched in some way to it. For others it was the most terrible time. And that's okay. And both things are okay and they can live simultaneously in the same world. So we don't, doesn't need to destroy the one or the other narrative. Collecting stories from all over Bulgaria conjures an interesting symmetry with Buzludzha’s original intent – as a celebration of Bulgarian communism, the idea was that all of Bulgaria would contribute to the construction. Dora Ivanova: There are so many different actions that they did in order to make it a national big initiative. So first it was funded by the people. So it could be funded by the party. Dora Ivanova: This was not a problem for the party, but they decided everybody should participate. Not everybody can work on site, so everybody should donate. So it was not really a choice, but I think everything back then was working more or less like this. Yeah. So it was from the one side ordinary thing, but from the other side. Yes, it was, mandatory donation or just taken out from the people. And I even know that some children were collecting paper and selling it for reuse, like to recycle paper so that they can get the money and donated for Buzludzha. Dora Ivanova: And the second thing is that there were 6,000 people working and out of them 500 were the, solders so there were military forces which constructed it., there were many people who were craftsman. But there were also a lot of volunteers. Again, “volunteers.” laughs Of course, the critical difference is that this time, while anyone can contribute, nobody has to. Ivanova and her team have been gathering interviews, oral histories, and anything that could be presented in a future interpretive center. And like stabilizing the roof of the building, the team feels an urgency to act before memory becomes history. Dora Ivanova: We have to take the stories before the people are gone. And do have this entire big project, I'm sure with this interpretation and analysis and historical research. But we don't have the time because we have to take the stories now. That's why we are doing this oral history campaign and those will be major stories that we are going to tell inside of the future building. But it’s critical that the storytelling platform provided by the future interpretive center doesn’t end with the collapse of communism in Bulgaria – because that narrows the focus and complicates the politics of preserving Buzludzha in the Bulgarian context. Before Ivanova started the project, the building’s fate was presented as a binary: destroy it as a symbol of the collapsed communist government, or restore it to its former glory as a rallying cry to reinstate the system that built it. Charting a different path means acknowledging the decades since the collapse and the need for a space to reflect on the communist period. That’s why the team is also carefully documenting what happened since – including the graffiti. Dora Ivanova: The general idea is definitely that the graffiti will be saved. And if all the graffiti or not, it's a matter of further discussions. But I think this is also something nice on the way that we don't have like a super fixed idea. This is how it's going to be. And this is exactly the target. Is exactly the function. This is exactly the way it's going to look like. But this is, again, a process and it develops according to needs, ideas, functions, people,partners, and interests. After the original visitors watched the narrated light show, they would have climbed stairs to the outer walkway around the amphitheater, called The Panoramic Corridor. Here, with giant windows facing the rest of Bulgaria, visitors would have contemplated what they just watched and connected it to the familiar landscape. It’s windy out here since there’s no glass anymore, but the views of the surrounding mountains and valleys are beautiful – almost like a real life background to a propaganda poster. Opposite the windows are the outer mosaics. Unlike the inner mosaics of Communist figures and dramatic battles which were dyed with artificial paints to make them colorful – there’s a lot of red as you might imagine – the outer mosaics are made of natural colors from Bulgaria’s rivers – they have a grayscale dignity to them. Here the titles of the murals are things like The Care For Next Generation and The Role of The Women in Our Society. Dora Ivanova: So not only the people had to donate their time and money, "voluntarily" but also the nature. So the mosaic stones from the outside mosaic ring are from all the different rivers in Bulgaria, so that the nature gives it's gift and participate in this project. So this is The Care For Next Generation. This is the name of the mosaic and it's actually even the name of the entire, project for preserving the mosaics because this is the also our idea care for the next generation. So we have the mothers and the children. There's one very pretty chicken there. Dora Ivanova: Yeah, so this is one of the unpolitical mosaics: this is The Role of The Women in Our Society – a very nice mosaic. So we have the woman with many hands because she has many roles and has to do many things. So she's concerned. The woman lover and the woman caretaker. And the woman everything possible.The woman who wants to run from all this stuff cuz it's too much. It’s so easy for me to imagine this Panoramic Corridor as part of a future museum at Buzludzha. The connection between the past inside the building and the future of the country, spread out beyond the windows, makes me shiver – not just because of the wind. Even though I didn’t choose to become a Bulgarian citizen until a few years ago, I can feel the potential standing in front of the open windows pointing in all directions. My mom is Bulgarian, but I was raised in America. My choice to connect with Bulgaria was future-looking – I’m interested in where Bulgaria is going and I want to help where I can. But I’ve been struck by the general cultural unwillingness to talk about the communist period that defined the country until fairly recently. The physical remains of that era and ideology are scattered around the country, but for many Bulgarians, they remain in the background – overgrown and unmovable – a kind of cynical proof that not much will change. Which is why what Ivanova and her team have done is so impressive. She says that the visible signs of recent preservation has actually gotten people to pay attention for the first time – to think that there is movement, and this physical proof has made people more likely to come forward with stories or offer to help. Dora Ivanova: You change people's ideas and you involve people and people find motivation and inspiration and, and they multiply, multiply the, the effect. So, I think that the building is the tool to create this impactful processes in this site. But I think this is also the only thing that can keep you motivated While there is a brutal finality in what Buzluzdha was built for, a way to present the final triumphant stage of history – a finality that turned out to be brittle, the way that Ivaona and her team are approaching it gives it the flexibility to mean whatever Bulgarians will find important. Dora Ivanova: And so at the end of the story, I think, it's about values, it's about change. I think even mostly about change. It's about the changing nature of everything which is related to humans and to humans, beliefs and human understandings. It's such a powerful place to tell these stories. And also with the traces of time, with the traces of, if you want to religious somehow communist ideology, but with all the graffiti with all the comments of the people, with the time, with all the artwork, which was created already here, which will be created here in the future. When you have this visibility and the, especially, this is a very visible thing. We cannot deny it. Yeah. And I think somewhere that is the motivation and the meaning for me. Thanks to the efforts of Ivanova and her Buzludzha Foundation, you’ll soon be able to go inside Buzludzha. Exactly what you’ll find inside is still being worked on, but it will all be in a future episode of this show. This has been Museum Archipelago.
Jan 23, 2023
19 min
100. The Archipelago Museum
In the early days of this podcast, every time I searched for Museum Archipelago on the internet, the top result would be a small museum in rural Finland called the Archipelago Museum. As my podcast continued to grow and my search rankings improved, I didn’t forget about the Archipelago Museum. Instead, I wondered what they were up to. What were the exhibits about? Did they ever come across my podcast? Were they annoyed by my similar name? And while the museum had a website and a map, there was no way to directly contact them. Years went by as the realization sank in—the only way to reach the museum was to physically show up at the museum. No planned appointment, no scheduled interview. So, for this very special 100th episode, I went to Finland and and visited the Rönnäs Archipelago Museum. Topics and Notes 00:00 Intro 00:15 Why is Ian in Finland? 00:45 Museum Archipelago's Early Days 01:30 Same Name 03:14 Arriving at the Archipelago Museum 04:05 Naomi Nordstedti 04:30 Life on the Archipelago 06:04 Opening the Museum 06:54 Boats 07:55 The Archipelago During Prohibition 08:28 Thoughts About 100 Episodes 10:40 Thanks For Listening 10:54 Outro | Join Club Archipelago 🏖 Museum Archipelago is a tiny show guiding you through the rocky landscape of museums. Subscribe to the podcast via Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Overcast, Spotify, or even email to never miss an episode. Support Museum Archipelago🏖️ Club Archipelago offers exclusive access to Museum Archipelago extras. It’s also a great way to support the show directly. Join the Club for just $2/month. Your Club Archipelago membership includes: Access to a private podcast that guides you further behind the scenes of museums. Hear interviews, observations, and reviews that don’t make it into the main show; Archipelago at the Movies 🎟️, a bonus bad-movie podcast exclusively featuring movies that take place at museums; Logo stickers, pins and other extras, mailed straight to your door; A warm feeling knowing you’re supporting the podcast. Transcript Below is a transcript of Museum Archipelago episode 100. For more information on the people and ideas in the episode, refer to the links above. View Transcript Welcome to Museum Archipelago. I'm Ian Elsner. Museum Archipelago guides you through the rocky landscape of museums. Each episode is never longer than 15 minutes, so let's get started. This is episode 100 of Museum Archipelago, and I’m in a rental car 80 kilometers outside of Helsinki, Finland looking for a museum. Field Audio - GPS: “In 400 meters, turn left onto the ramp”. Field Audio - Ian: “I think… I can feel we are close to the Gulf of Finland” But not just any museum. I’m deep in rural Finland because of the name of this podcast: Museum Archipelago. Field Audio - Ian: “You know, I hope the museum has a bathroom…” When I was starting this project and choosing a name, I hoped to create an audio lens to look at museums as a medium, and to critically examine museums as a whole. If no museum was an island, I reasoned, why not name the show after another geographic feature – a collection of islands? And I enjoyed the symmetry with Gulag Archipelago – just a slight sinister undertone that this won’t be a fluffy museum podcast. And when I came across the quote by philosopher Édouard Glissant, “I imagine the museum as an archipelago”, the name stuck. Museum Archipelago was snappy and a great name for a podcast – there was just one problem: the Archipelago Museum, located somewhere in Finland. Field Audio - Ian: “Ah, I see a sign for the museum, but I can't pronounce it – ” Field Audio - GPS: “Turn left” For the first 20 or so episodes of the show, every time you searched the words Museum Archipelago on the internet, the top results would be about the Archipelago Museum in Finland, instead of my podcast. It didn’t really bother me – well maybe a little – but no, it didn’t really bother me. Archipelago is a great word, and the museum was all the way in Finland, and it certainly was around for longer. But as my podcast continued to grow and my search rankings improved, I didn’t forget about the Archipelago Museum. I would wonder what they were up to. I wondered if they had heard of my podcast. Maybe they came across it one day? Maybe I was annoying them with my similar name. Every few months, I would think to contact the museum, to highlight the similarity and hopefully make a new friend – only to remember that they didn’t have an email address. An old email address, from an archived version of their website, bounced back with an undeliverable error. The more I thought about it, the more it sank in: the only way to reach the museum was to physically show up at the museum. No planned appointment, no scheduled interview. A few years later, with help from those of you who have supported the show through Club Archipelago, visiting the museum finally became possible. I decided to hop on two planes, book a rental car, spend a night in an airport hotel in Helsinki, drive down the coast, and visit the Archipelago Museum in person. Even if there was nobody there willing to talk to me, it would still make for an interesting 100th episode. Field Audio - GPS: “Turn left. Then your destination will be on the right.” Field Audio - Ian: All right. This is the Archipelago Museum. Field Audio - GPS: “Your destination is on the right.” Field Audio - Ian: “ Wow. I think it's open and I see a WC sign! Okay, I'm gonna park where it says parking. The Archipelago Museum is a long, old stone barn on the Gulf of Finland that’s packed full of boats. Field Audio - Ian : *walking over stones” Field Audio - Ian: “How are you?” Field Audio - Naomi: I'm fine, thank you. How are you? Welcome. Field Audio - Ian: “I’m very good, thank you! I would love to visit the museum. One ticket, please.” Field Audio - Naomi: Yes, you are welcome. That’s 5 euros. With card or cash? This is Naomi. Naomi Nordstedt: “Hi, my name is Naomi and I work at the Skärgårdsmuseet Rönnäs [Rönnäs Archipelago Museum]. So as the cashier, guide, whatever.” Naomi told me that the museum usually gets one or two visitors from the US every summer. Naomi Nordstedti: How did you find us? Or like how did you, how did you come to Finland of all places? Field Audio - Ian: “Well, to visit this museum!” Naomi Nordstedti: Oh wow! The Archipelago Museum tells the human story of life on the archipelago off the coast of Finland. The main area of the exhibition underscores the centrality of surviving among the remote islands by fishing, seal hunting, and cattle breeding. The main idea is Naomi Nordstedti: To see how people lived within the archipelago and like how the archipelago has sustained the people, while the people sustain the archipelago. The sea is very important. That's the most important thing. And it, since it's very like the people who live here live very scattered cuz it's a bit remote. We have couple neighbors, but then to one side there's nothing but forest for like kilometers. So you become closer with the people who live close by. Sometimes you have to go a bit further to meet. And that becomes also part of like, you meet up with bigger groups of people a couple times a year because you know, you might not see them that much otherwise. And also just as a side point, most people here have a boat. Most people sail. That's just a thing. You do that here. People have been making this part of the archipelago their home for 500 years, and the reasons always come back to geography. Naomi Nordstedti: We know there's been a medieval village here since the 13th century. Over here, there used to be an inland lake. This is all, there's no water over here now. And so like the water line is over here. Which means that there used to be back in 1414 or 1421, there have been records that people used to live here and this used to be like a bigger, for that time, bigger town, because this made it possible for commerce to happen way more since this led to the sea. The medieval village disappeared and over the centuries, various families lived in the area, surviving, using boats, and building barns. By the mid 1970s, the stone barn we’re in now sat abandoned. Naomi Nordstedti: This building was left and it was like, nobody owns it. Nobody was like, just kind of living in it. It's a beautiful building. So then it was just decided that a lot of people like around here were like, well, what should we do with this building? It's a beautiful building. It's a shame to just let it go to waste. So this is the guy who was like, hey, should we start a museum? Cuz he made boats. And they were like, yeah. There was a lot of, support from the local community and from the other people. 1985 is when we opened. There's a lot of beautiful things there and so much history that isn't really known about.It's only known about like from families and within families, and they tell the stories. So it's nice that other people get to see too. As the museum’s brochure says, “the boat occupies the central position in being the prime tool of the population.” Naomi Nordstedti: There is information about how to build boats, how boats have been built throughout the centuries, and our collection of the working boats that have been used here in the archipelago. Most of the stories that the local community tells about the archipelago are indeed told through boats – school boats, the differences between the boats that year-rounders used compared with the people who built summer cottages, the engine development and design through the 20th century, and the way that boats were used to used to smuggle alcohol during the period of Finish prohibition 1919 to 1932. Naomi Nordstedti: People in Finland have never drunk as much alcohol as they did during the prohibition. So it did not work, but it was interesting. This is how they smuggled alcohol. They filled these canisters with pure alcohol. Most of them from Estonia or some from Germany as well. You can fit about 10 liters in one of those. Then they filled those canisters, this whole thing, filled them up like that and then they took the rope, attached it to the boat, and then went, and then if they got caught by the authorities. Like you can see over there on that picture they'd cut the rope and then this thing would fall to the bottom. And then they have this little thing. So this is a buoy. It's attached to , a bag of salt or sugar, which means that they would go to to bottom. And then the sugar or salt would dissolve in a couple days. So jump up again and they could recover. Yeah, they had a lot of clever ideas. The Archipelago Museum is only about 500 meters from the coast, so I ended my long journey by walking over to see the archipelago for myself. Field Audio - Ian: *walking over stones” Field Audio - Ian: So here I am on the Gulf of Finland, overlooking the archipelago overlooking some islands. Extending out into the distance, some boats and people in them, some islands that are not much more than just rocks… it’s a good place to think about 100 episodes. Doing museum archipelago has helped me expand my understanding of museums – far more than I expected when I started work on episode one. It allowed me to have conversations with people at tiny museums – museums so small they haven’t been built yet – and giant museums where change seems impossible. It enabled a new relationship with guides, exhibit designers, and the visiting public. Walking through almost 100 museums for this project, it’s still tempting to see each museum as an island – every episode, it’s easy to focus on just one museum, to examine their unique collection or an updated exhibit. But zooming out helps too and is useful in its own way. Anyone’s local museum can be a beloved fixture, but museums as an institution have a centuries-long history undergirding white supremacist, colonialist, and racist ideologies and helping them flourish. Interrogating museums as a whole hopefully allows us to better recognize colonial structures embedded within an individual one. We can’t forget the power that museums hold. And by examining the larger forces acting on this rocky landscape of museums, we have the chance, if we’re careful, to wield that power for better uses than the ones that created museums in the first place. Thanks for joining me on the journey so far. I’m so excited for where we get to voyage to next. Thanks for listening to 100 episodes of Museum Archipelago!
Nov 28, 2022
11 min
99. Museums in Video Games
The Computer Games Museum in Berlin knows that its visitors want to play games, so it lets them. The artifacts are fully-playable video games, from early arcade classics like PacMac to modern console and PC games, all with original hardware and controllers. By putting video games in a museum space, the Computer Games Museum invites visitors to become players. But, players can become visitors too. Video games have been inviting players into museum spaces for decades. In the mid 1990s, interaction designer Joe Kalicki remembers playing PacMan in another museum – only this one was inside a video game. In Namco Museum, players navigated a 3D museum space to access the games, elevating them to a high-culture setting. Since then, museums and their cultural shorthands have been a part of the video game landscape, implicitly inviting their players-turned-visitors to think critically about museums in the process. In this episode, Kalicki presents mainstream and indie examples of video games with museums inside them: from Animal Crossing’s village museum to Museum of Memories, which provides a virtual place for objects of sentimental value, to Occupy White Walls where players construct a museum, fill it with art – then invite others to come inside. Image: The Computer Games Museum in Berlin by Marcin Wichary (CC BY 2.0) Topics and Notes 00:00 Intro 00:15 Computerspielemuseum Berlin 01:23 Joe Kalicki 02:06 Namco Museum 03:42 Digital Museum Spaces Elevating Video Games 04:26 Museum of Memories by Kate Smith 05:25 Occupy White Walls 07:18 Discovery Tour for Assassin's Creed Origins 10:11 Animal Crossing 11:29 Video Game Engines In Museums 12:44 Joe Kalicki’s new podcast, Panoply 13:13 Museum Archipelago's 100th Episode Party 🎉 13:44 Outro | Join Club Archipelago 🏖 Museum Archipelago is a tiny show guiding you through the rocky landscape of museums. Subscribe to the podcast via Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Overcast, Spotify, or even email to never miss an episode. Support Museum Archipelago🏖️ Club Archipelago offers exclusive access to Museum Archipelago extras. It’s also a great way to support the show directly. Join the Club for just $2/month. Your Club Archipelago membership includes: Access to a private podcast that guides you further behind the scenes of museums. Hear interviews, observations, and reviews that don’t make it into the main show; Archipelago at the Movies 🎟️, a bonus bad-movie podcast exclusively featuring movies that take place at museums; Logo stickers, pins and other extras, mailed straight to your door; A warm feeling knowing you’re supporting the podcast. Transcript Below is a transcript of Museum Archipelago episode 99. For more information on the people and ideas in the episode, refer to the links above. View Transcript Welcome to Museum Archipelago. I'm Ian Elsner. Museum Archipelago guides you through the rocky landscape of museums. Each episode is never longer than 15 minutes, so let's get started. The Computer Games Museum in Berlin knows that its visitors want to play games. The central interpretive throughline, called Milestones, presents a timeline of the rapid development of the video game industry through 50 individual games: from Spacewar!, developed in 1962 at MIT to the latest console and PC games. But nearby, tucked into corners and side rooms, visitors are invited to play many of these games on their original hardware with original controllers. The museum even goes so far as to emulate the spaces in which people would have been playing these games their year of their release: games like Asteroids or Space Invaders are presented in a full arcade-like environment, early home computer games like Oregon Trail live inside your parents home office, while the home-console classics like Super Mario Bothers are in a space made to look like a basement in an early 90s suburban home in the U.S. So you can play a Japanese video game in an American home inside a German museum — but what about putting a museum in a video game? Joe Kalicki: I think we're in a very important place right now where we need to assess the value of fully digital educational experiences in the context of the museum. But particularly I also wanna explore the value for educating everyday people on how to appreciate and interact with brick and mortar museums as well. This is interaction designer Joe Kalicki. Joe Kalicki: Hello, my name is Joe Kalicki. I'm an interaction designer, musician, and podcaster. Kalicki remembers the first time he encountered a museum-like space in a video game. Joe Kalicki: In the late nineties, the Namco company published a series of games called Namco Museum, and this was earnestly the first attempt to create mainstream historical documentation for video games and it’s a very pivotal example for me in thinking about digital museum spaces. Namco Museum was a digital version of the Computer Games Museum, but all the video games presented in the collection, like PacMan and Dig Dug, were originally made for Namco arcades. Joe Kalicki: They actually had a fully 3D-rendered museum space. You would walk into the front, into the atrium where a receptionist would greet you. And then you would walk into the main hall and go into the specific wing of the gallery for a particular game. And you would walk around this space and you could do things like view concept art for the game or view documents and artifacts related to the game. Joe Kalicki: And then of course you could go on and you could play the game. There was theming in each of the wings to represent something about the game itself. And as a, I guess I was probably six or seven when I played this, this was mind blowing to me. Not only was this game taking the time to put me into a place and contextualize these games that I was playing, it provided so much more value and actually frankly, kickstarted me really deeply caring about the history of video games and the history of these things that I was interacting with rather than just hopping in and playing a round of Dig Dug, and then turning it off. Playing Namco Museum today, it’s easy to see the match between a museum space and the video game technology of the 1990s. White gallery walls are easy to render, and navigating through sparse 3D rooms and hallways is a prerequisite for any first-person shooter game. And white walls with the occasional object is all it takes to read as “museum” and – as we talk a lot about on this show – “museum” conjures up a whole lot of cultural signifiers about how we should treat the information and objects presented. The fact that Namco Museum decided to present its games in a virtual gallery space was a way to signal that these video games were important – a statement that these games were worth engaging with like historic or artistic object. A 2021 project by game designer and programming instructor Kate Smith called Museum of Memories delibrary employs a gallery space to signal important objects. Joe Kalicki: Kate Smith and a couple other developers created Museum of Memories as a project for a game jam. She had an open invitation to send in an item that people cared about. Send in an audio recording of yourself saying why you care about it. And then she put together a very straightforward museum space: classic pedestals and wall mounts and whatnot. Joe Kalicki: And somebody would send in a reference photo or, so a cookbook, for example, and Kate and her team would create a 3D version of that item, put it on display and you can listen to why these objects are meaningful to the people that submitted them. Then there are experiences that invite the player to create their own museum space – not just contributing objects and stories. Kalicki points to Occupy White Walls, where people construct a museum and fill it with art – then invite other players to come inside. Joe Kalicki: It's a free-to-play game that was released a couple years ago and essentially you are dropped onto a plot of land and you have a building and it's kind of a rinky dink little art gallery, and you can essentially remodel it and take art that either people have uploaded into the game or exists in the public domain. And you can essentially decorate and design your space. And you could totally build a bunch of white walls and throw things up that you like. Joe Kalicki: You can do it as densely or sparsely as you like. You can create sort of fantastical spaces and then present the work that you're placing into the 3D space in a way that pleases you, or maybe you want to create some sort of lack of harmony, and dissonance and you know, freak people out. And the really cool thing about the game is that you can hop into other people's galleries and you can go take a look. Joe Kalicki: And I checked it out last night, for example, and I teleported to somebody's gallery and there were five or six other real people walking around and looking at things and chatting about the art. And the cool thing about it too, is there would be,something that I would've formally a piece of art that I would've associated with a Tumblr or a Deviant Art back in the day next to a Caravaggio or other Renaissance classics and whatnot. In the same way that Roller Coaster Tycoon – a video game from the late 90s – encouraged players to think deeply about the logistics of designing a theme park, Occupy White Walls gives players control over a museum gallery in a way that’s really difficult to achieve in real life. But by doing so, it asks players to think critically about museums in the real world. At a certain point, the cultural signifier of a museum space could become limiting – if designers and developers can make anything at all, why make white walls and display cases? The latest versions of the Assassin's Creed series of video games feature something called a Discovery Tour. In the Discovery Tour for Assassin's Creed Origins, which takes place just before the Roman occupation of Egypt in about 40 BCE, the video game’s players – free from their assenination duties – walk around the crowded ancient cities of Alexandria or Memphis on a guided tour. Joe Kalicki: And this era, which the game has built out for the purpose of you running around and, you know, killing people just to put it simply – they stripped away all of that and your avatar, your character could walk around the world and basically take a guided tour of basically every nook and cranny of Egyptian society at that time. Joe Kalicki: So you could walk into a city and a nice, documentary style narrator would talk to you about the city and what the various classes of people would do in the city. You'd walk through the markets and observe that. But as you reach certain locatio ns, if you would go into a tomb for example, and there would be a sarcophagus, well, an image viewer would pop up and you'd be able to look through some of the high resolution photos that were used for reference modeling or other purposes. In the Discovery Tour, the cultural signifier of a museum is replaced with the cultural signifier of a narrated guided tour. The level of detail – both in terms of historical research and digital recreation – is the primary selling point of the main game. But since studios had to put in all this work anyway, it’s not too much of a stretch to build an educational module on that same foundation. Joe Kalicki: Every game that's created there's something called a like a content bible or development bible, or, there's various names for it. But the idea is it's kind of like the master guide for the world. And it helps when you're basing your game in an area of the world that's been heavily researched and documented and actually existed that can become very fleshed out very quickly. Especially these triple A where there's many, many, many millions of dollars, budgets, exceeding massive blockbuster films going into these games. Joe Kalicki: So, why not create some additional value out of it? Personally, I would love if companies like this could release modes like that either for free or in some context where, yeah, you're not getting to do the thing where you're running around and, jumping off of ledges and assassinating people, but you can access this big, beautiful world that all this work went into. We’re probably already at a place where museums in video games are easier to access than museums themselves. Since its initial series release in 2001, the popular video game Animal Crossing has featured a village museum where players can place culturally or aesthetically valuable items that they find in the world of anthropomorphic animal. Joe Kalicki: for a child thinking about this in a, in a real, ground level situation where you are not a person that has the lifetime and historical context of what museums are. Joe Kalicki: It's the early 2000s, and you're playing one of the first Animal Crossing games: you may or may not have even been to a museum yet. And you're going around the world and you're finding precious items that you care about. You’re excited that you caught the butterfly or you dug up a fossil or a rhinoceros gave you a painting or whatever it is. Joe Kalicki: And when you donate those to the museum and then you see them represented and you see them respected and displayed proudly there's that may be a formative experience for someone even knowing what a museum is. And so that person then goes on a field trip or they travel with their family or whatever, and they're gonna go to a museum and they're gonna say, somebody had to find all this stuff. Somebody had to bring it here. And they had to decide that this belonged in a museum rather than keeping it in their house. And one final point blurring the line between visitor and player. All of these games rely on video game engines – the foundational code on top of which these games are built. Occupy White Walls uses the Unreal Engine, while Kate Smith used Unity to render realistic museum spaces in Museum of Memories. These engines, designed and tweaked for video games, are also the fastest and cheapest ways to develop interactive exhibits for museums. I use Unity for exhibits I develop because that gives me access to a whole toolbox of solved problems (like realistic lighting, 3D model support, and a stable tech stack) meaning I don’t need to worry about making a custom solution from the ground up. At the Computer Games Museum in Berlin, even the interactives that aren’t the video game artifacts – interactives displaying information like text and images – are built on a game engine. And the interactives at your local museum probably are too. I wasn't able to find a game in the Computer Games Museum that featured a museum-like space: so I could have the delightful recursion of being in a museum in a video game in a museum. But with more and more museum-like spaces popping up in video games, it’s only a matter of time. Joe Kalicki is starting a podcast called Panoply – the first episode releases on August 15. The podcast is about learning through oblique strategies and will feature interviews with musicians, academics, and historians and is not afraid to be obscure and esoteric. You can subscribe now and listen to the trailer by visiting the awesome URL: panoply.space. This has been Museum Archipelago. The next episode of Museum Archipelago is episode 100. To celebrate this milestone, I want to hear from you! I’ve set up a place on the internet where you can send a voice memo to be included in the very special 100th episode. There, you’ll be presented with two questions: one, where do you listen to Museum Archipelago, and two what museum would you like to hear about on a future episode of the podcast. You can answer by recording yourself, or just writing in a text field. Visit museumarchieplago.com/party to join the celebration. Looking forward to seeing you, and thanks for listening! Museum Archipelago is an ad-free, listener supported podcast, guiding you through the rocky landscape of museums. Thanks so much to everyone who supports the show by being a member of Club Archipelago. You can join them by going to http://jointhemuseum.club. Thanks again for helping make this show possible. For a full transcript of this episode, as well as show notes and links, visit museumarchipelago.com. Thanks for listening. And next time, bring a friend.
Aug 8, 2022
14 min
98. At the Panama Canal Museum, Ana Elizabeth González Creates a Global Connection Point
When Ana Elizabeth González was growing up in Panama, the history she learned about the Panama Canal in school told a narrow story about the engineering feat of the Canal’s construction by the United States. This public history reflected the politics of Panama and control over the Canal. Today, González is executive Director of the Panama Canal Museum, and she’s determined to use the Canal and the struggles over its authority to tell a broader story about the history of Panama – one centered around Panama as a point of connection from pre-Colonial times to the present day. In this episode, González describes the geographic destiny of the Isthmus of Panama, how America’s ownership of the Canal physically divided the country, and how her team is developing galleries covering Panama’s recent history. Topics and Notes 00:00 Intro 00:15 The Panama Canal's Politically Sensitive History 01:20 Ana Elizabeth González, Executive Director of the Panama Canal Museum 01:35 Opening of the Panama Canal Museum in 1997 02:44 Making the Museum About Panama, Not Just The Canal 03:10 Geography is Destiny 03:30 The Isthmus of Panama as a Point of Connection 04:20 A Brief History 04:50 French Attempt at a Canal 05:10 Treaty of Hay–Bunau-Varilla 06:30 Construction of the Canal 07:00 "Gold Roll" and "Silver Roll" 08:00 Martyrs' Day 08:50 Work In Progress: Galleries of Panama's Recent History 09:10 Panama's Recent History, Briefly 11:10 The Museum's Future 11:15 Museum Archipelago's 100th Episode Party 🎉 12:20 Outro | Join Club Archipelago 🏖 Museum Archipelago is a tiny show guiding you through the rocky landscape of museums. Subscribe to the podcast via Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Overcast, Spotify, or even email to never miss an episode. Support Museum Archipelago🏖️ Club Archipelago offers exclusive access to Museum Archipelago extras. It’s also a great way to support the show directly. Join the Club for just $2/month. Your Club Archipelago membership includes: Access to a private podcast that guides you further behind the scenes of museums. Hear interviews, observations, and reviews that don’t make it into the main show; Archipelago at the Movies 🎟️, a bonus bad-movie podcast exclusively featuring movies that take place at museums; Logo stickers, pins and other extras, mailed straight to your door; A warm feeling knowing you’re supporting the podcast. Transcript Below is a transcript of Museum Archipelago episode 98. For more information on the people and ideas in the episode, refer to the links above. View Transcript Welcome to Museum Archipelago. I'm Ian Elsner. Museum Archipelago guides you through the rocky landscape of museums. Each episode is never longer than 15 minutes, so let's get started. When Ana Elizabeth González was growing up in Panama, the history she learned in school about the Panama Canal told a narrow story. Ana Elizabeth González: The history of the canal that was told here was told in a way that was very politically sensitive at the time. So it didn't want to ruffle any feathers.. it's mentioned in schools, but not in depth. Up until 1979, the United States fully controlled the Panama Canal and a 5 mile zone on either side, and until 1999, the United States jointly controlled the Canal with Panama. The presence of the United States, and the politics of the Canal, meant that the safest story to tell was one that was mostly focused on the technological feat of building it. Ana Elizabeth González: The history was very carefully constructed so that it praised the engineering feat of the United States, but it completely ignored the fact that Panama was home to people from 97 different countries to build this Canal, which causes such a diversity in our country. Ana Elizabeth González is now Executive director of the Panama Canal Museum in Panama City, Panama. Ana Elizabeth: Hello. My name is Ana Elizabeth González and I'm executive director of the Panama canal museum, El Museo Del Canal. González became director in 2020, but the Panama Canal Museum itself opened in 1997, two years before control of the Canal was returned to Panama. The museum – a non-profit which is not government funded – was created out of a hope that, among all the changes, Pamana’s complex relationship to the Canal would not be forgotten. Ana Elizabeth González: I was in school at the time, but, I remember it was, I think the then President of Panama and the Mayor and a lot of other people that created the board of trustees and I think it was the idea that this history of this struggle to gain our land and to find our sovereignty and the generational struggle that had been going on. There was a fear that it would have gotten lost in memory or forgotten. So I think that the museum back then was created to preserve and study and research everything surrounding the Canal history and promoting the education of what an impact it had. So for González, the Panama Canal Museum is really a museum about Panama. Ana Elizabeth González: I think people come with the preconception that the museum is just going to be about how the Canal works and how the locks open fill with water. And we don't really have that in-depth here. That's why the Canal has a visitor center that explains how it works in terms of technology and engineering. But it's something we just brush over here because we deep dive into the history of Panama as a point of connection. And as this route that changed the world. The first gallery of the museum begins long before the Canal and highlights the unique features of Panama’s geography: a small isthmus that’s both the only way to travel between the North and South American continents by land and also the narrowest land between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Ana Elizabeth González: We've been a trade route or over a route of connection. Ever since Panama – well, the territory sort of resurfaced from, from the oceans, because we were always a bridge between north and south America for animal species and then indigenous peoples. So we've always sort of been a point of trade and contact both culturally and commercially. You enter, the first exhibition space, which is the sort of emergence of Panama as a land in this sort of Omni globe that we have, and you see how it connects both landmasses of North and South America. And you go through the exhibition towards the pre-colonial living traditions, and what Panama was like before the Spanish colonization, then the importance of Panama as part of the Spanish crown and monarchy until 1821. After three hundred years as part of the Spanish monarchy, the isthmus’s geography started to look even more useful to outside interests during the 19th century, as global trade started to pick up. Here, goods and passengers could bypass a much longer and much more dangerous journey around the Strait of Magellan on the southern tip of South America. In 1855, a railway was built across the Isthmus, facilitating the movement of people and goods in time for a wave of the California gold rush. Ana Elizabeth González: And then in 1881, if I'm correct, the French after the success of the Suez Canal, the French chose to build a canal through Panama. Unfortunately, due to yellow fever and other diseases and badly managed funds, the enterprise did not succeed, but it was bought from the French by the United States through the treaty of, Hay–Bunau-Varilla, which we signed upon getting our independence as a country. The 1903 treaty of Hay–Bunau-Varilla granted the United States complete ownership over a 50 mile long slice of land that was to be the Canal. In the gallery, visitors walk through a hallway that’s completely covered in words from that treaty. Powerful words like “perpetuity” and “authority” look down on them. Ana Elizabeth González: The United States had rights for… well for forever it wasn't even a question of whether or not they owned it. They owned the land where it was going to be built and the land where they had to operate and the land where they had to create their offices and their ports. Back then the country was completely divided, through a gap that was considered the canal zone. And that was United States territory and Panimanians were not free to wander into it, and it did separate the country in a massive way. And that treaty, which no Panamanian negotiated or signed, was actually the seed of our struggle with international relations during the whole 20th century until the CanalI was transferred back to Panama in 1999. But first the massive task of actually constructing the Canal through that slice of land. The project required enormous numbers of people, and Canal administrators tried to entice workers from all over the world to take part in the project – yet another way that this isthmus was at the forefront of a more globalized world. Ana Elizabeth González: We had people obviously from the Caribbean, we had people from Europe. We had people from Asia. So there's a big mix and such a big diversity that came with the construction of the Canal.And many of them remained in the country after the Canal was built and they made their life here, but what is also not known is the amount of racism and discrimination that these people faced. Because in order to work in the Panama Canal construction, you were assigned either a gold roll or a silver roll. So the payroll was either you were paid in American gold or in Panamanian silver and the American gold was reserved for white Americans. And sometimes there were some exceptions with some Europeans, but the remainder of the population whether you were Asian, Caribbean, European, or even Panamanian, you were paid in Panamanian silver. The living standards for silver roll were appalling. The law even, because I'm assuming some of it was important from the Jim Crow laws at the time, they had segregated entrances for silver roll and gold roll. The schools were segregated. And this is a history that not many people in Panama or elsewhere know. And I think a lot of that ripples into certain racial tendencies and racism that permeates through our society today. After taking people through the construction of the Canal, the museum’s exhibits end abruptly in 1964, with an event known as Martyrs' Day in Panama. Ana Elizabeth González: And it ends in 1964 because we had a very significant moment in history at the time where students from a high school in Panama peacefully protested with their flag towards the Canal Zone. And there was a scuffle, there were a lot of tensions and in the end, many of the students died, shot by Canal Zone police, or otherwise, and the flag was torn. And at that moment, Panama became the first country to break diplomatic relations with the United States. And we still commemorate that day as the day of the Martyrs' that day. And that was a turning point in the negotiations of a new treaty. For the Canal and that's where we are at the moment, because the next exhibition rooms are completely empty at the moment. We're continuing to renovation plans for those. González and her team are developing the galleries that feature the rest of the story, up until the present day – this includes the Torrijos–Carter Treaties in 1977 which defined the handover of the Canal at the end of the 20th century, and the 1989 U.S. invasion of Panama. When the new galleries open, it will be the first time much of this history has been presented in a Panamanian museum. Ana Elizabeth González: Yeah, it's our next challenge. Many people may not know this, in 1968 we had a coup d'état. the government was deposed and we had a military regime and it's a history that not many Panimanians talk about till this day. There's still a lot of sensibilities I think that could be hurt, from it because there are still people around that were part of both the military regime and families of the victims it disappeared. But it was a big part of our history and it was a big part of the negotiations for the canal because, general Omar Torrijos who signed the Canal treaty with president Carter from the United States was in fact that a dictator and not many, not everybody agrees on that terminology, but, he eliminated political parties. He eliminated media that was not government controlled. We had another dictator until 89 when the United States following a clause from the treaty from 1903, and also 77, which said, they can invade Panama at any point where they, when they think that Canal is being endangered, invaded the country to a lot of human losses, but managed to successfully arrest our dictator. All of that is a very difficult history to share. And I think that's why maybe in 97 when the museum was created. It was still too soon. But it's something that we're definitely going to tell now. And I think it's going to be a really important dialogue with the people's Panama to remember maybe parts of history that are hurtful to remember, maybe embarrassing to remember, but that need to be remembered in order not to be repeated. So that's our next step. González says that the new galleries featuring recent history will be open in September 2022. In the century since the Canal was built, the globe has only become more connected – and the Canal remains the world’s biggest trade route. González is sure that Panama’s place as a global point of connection will only grow – and wants to make sure there’s a museum that tells that story. Ana Elizabeth González: I think it's important for people to know the Canal is not just a recent history. To know that Panama has been a link between peoples and. cultures and points of trade since we've existed is quite important. We've been geographically blessed and such a small country plays such a big impact in the world that it's an honor for me to direct the museum that tells that story. This has been Museum Archipelago. Museum Archipelago is turning 100 and you’re invited! Whether this is your first episode or your 98th, I’m so happy you’re listening. How I want to celebrate is by hearing from you. To do that, I’ve set up a place on the internet where you can send a voice memo to be included in the 100th episode. There, you’ll be presented with two questions: one, where do you listen to Museum Archipelago, and two what museum would you like to hear about on a future episode of the podcast. You can answer by recording yourself, or just writing in a text field. Visit museumarchieplago.com/party to join the celebration. Looking forward to seeing you, and thanks for listening! Museum Archipelago is an ad-free, listener supported podcast, guiding you through the rocky landscape of museums. Thanks so much to everyone who supports the show by being a member of Club Archipelago. You can join them by going to http://jointhemuseum.club. Thanks again for helping make this show possible. For a full transcript of this episode, as well as show notes and links, visit museumarchipelago.com. Thanks for listening. And next time, bring a friend.
Feb 14, 2022
13 min
97. Richard Nixon Hoped to Never Say These Words about Apollo 11. In A New Exhibit, He Does.
As the Apollo 11 astronauts hurtled towards the moon on July 18th, 1969, members of the Nixon administration realized they should probably make a contingency plan. If the astronauts didn’t make it – or, even more horrible, if they made it to the moon and crashed and had no way to get back to earth – Richard Nixon would have to address the nation. That haunting speech was written but fortunately was never delivered. But you can go to the Museum of the Moving Image in New York City and watch Nixon somberly reciting those words. It looks like real historic footage, but it’s fake. Artists Francesca Panetta and Halsey Burgund used the text of the original address and media manipulation techniques like machine learning to create the synthetic Nixon for a film called In Event of Moon Disaster. It anchors an exhibit called Deepfake: Unstable Evidence on Screen. In this episode, Panetta and Burgund discuss how they created In Event of Moon Disaster as a way to highlight various misinformation techniques, the changing literacy of the general public towards media manipulation, and the effectiveness of misinformation in the museum medium. Topics and Notes 00:00 Intro 00:15 July 18th, 1969 00:40 The Safire Memo 01:38 Clip From In Event of Moon Disaster 02:30 Nixon’s Telephone Call 03:00 What is Deepfake? 03:30 Halsey Burgund 04:06 Francesca Panetta 04:30 How They Did It 04:50 Why This Speech? 06:02 Deepfake: Unstable Evidence on Screen at the Museum of the Moving Image in New York City 07:05 Misinformation By Editing 09:53 Misinformation and Medium 10:23 Museums as Trustworthy Institutions 11:27 What Would a “Deepfake Museum Gallery” Look Like? 13:43 In Event of Moon Disaster 14:00 Outro | Join Club Archipelago 🏖 Museum Archipelago is a tiny show guiding you through the rocky landscape of museums. Subscribe to the podcast via Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Overcast, Spotify, or even email to never miss an episode. Support Museum Archipelago🏖️ Club Archipelago offers exclusive access to Museum Archipelago extras. It’s also a great way to support the show directly. Join the Club for just $2/month. Your Club Archipelago membership includes: Access to a private podcast that guides you further behind the scenes of museums. Hear interviews, observations, and reviews that don’t make it into the main show; Archipelago at the Movies 🎟️, a bonus bad-movie podcast exclusively featuring movies that take place at museums; Logo stickers, pins and other extras, mailed straight to your door; A warm feeling knowing you’re supporting the podcast. Transcript Below is a transcript of Museum Archipelago episode 97. For more information on the people and ideas in the episode, refer to the links above. View Transcript Welcome to Museum Archipelago. I'm Ian Elsner. Museum Archipelago guides you through the rocky landscape of museums. Each episode is never longer than 15 minutes, so let's get started. On July 18th, 1969, members of the Nixon administration realized they should probably make a contingency plan. If the Apollo 11 astronauts who were hurtling towards the moon, on their way to be the first humans to land on its surface, didn’t make it to the moon – or, even more horrible, if they made it to the moon and crashed and had no way to get back to earth – Nixon would have to address the nation. So Nixon’s speech writer, William Safire wrote an address titled “In Event of Moon Disaster.” It’s a short, haunting speech – the first time that billions of people on earth would learn about the failed Apollo 11 mission. Safire notes that before delivering the speech, Nixon “should telephone each of the widows-to-be.” Widows-to-be because Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin wouldn’t be dead yet, just stranded on the moon with no hope of recovery. Halsey Burgund: The astronauts are still alive. I mean that – every time I even think of that, I just get these sort of chills. They not only would have been alive when the speech was delivered, but they could have actually heard it. Then, back on earth, Nixon would have soberly walked up to a television camera, adjusted the speech written on his stack of papers, looked right at the camera lens and said. Richard Nixon: “Good evening my fellow Americans. Fate has ordained that the men who went to the moon to explore in peace will stay on the moon to rest in peace. These brave men, Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin, know that there's no hope for their recovery. But they also know that there is hope for mankind in their sacrifice.” But Nixon never said these words. On July 20th, 1969, Apollo 11’s lunar lander successfully touched down, intact on the surface of the moon with enough fuel to get safely back to earth. So instead of addressing the nation in a sobering speech, Nixon called the astronauts directly in a more awkward but definitely preferable phone call. Richard Nixon: “Hello Neil and Buzz, I’m talking to you by telephone from the Oval Room at the White House, And there certainly has to be the most historic telephone call I've ever made. I just can't tell you how proud we all are of what you have – every American, this has to be the proudest day of our lives.” The reason why it’s so hard to tell these two Nixons apart – the real one and the fake one – is because of a technology known today as deepfake. Halsey Burgund: Deepfake comes from the combination of deep, which is short for deep learning in this case, which is an artificial intelligence technique, and then fake, of course, meaning, you know, something not true. So deepfake is a representation through audio and video of an event, of a person, doing or saying something that never actually happened in reality. And the addendum to that is that it almost always happens without the consent of the individual who is depicted. The first Nixon, the fake one, was created by Halsey Burgund and Francesca Panetta as part of a film they titled In Event of Moon Disaster. In Event of Moon Disaster is the centerpiece of a new exhibit called Deepfake: Unstable Evidence on Screen at the Museum of the Moving Image in New York City. Halsey Burgund: Hello. My name is Halsy Burgund. I am an artist and a creative technologist, and one of my most recent projects is called In Event of Moon Disaster, which looks at a deepfake synthetic media technology. And it uses the Apollo 11 moon landing mission as a vehicle to explore this new technology. Francesca Panetta: Hello, my name is Francesca Panetta. I am an immersive director, artist and journalist, and I am the co-director of In Event of Moon Disaster, a film and an installation about misinformation and deep fakes and an alternative history of the moon landing. Panetta and Burgund made In the Event of Moon Disaster by combining footage of Richard Nixon giving an unrelated speech and employing video techniques to replicate the movement of Nixon’s mouth and lips. Combined with the contributions of a voice actor and some deep learning techniques to synthetically make the audio sound more like Nixon, the whole video is quite believable and striking. Halsey Burgund: We've thought a lot about how our project needs to create misinformation to a certain extent, but then it needs to identify what it has done. We need to wrap the whole project in a context, which does the best we can to ensure that people don't leave the experience thinking that two astronauts were stranded on the moon and their bodies are still there and they, and they died. That is the context of our piece. And that is what the speech that Nixon delivers – fake Nixon, synthetic Nixon delivers. The directors choose to use this particular speech by Nixon for the project in part because it relates to moon landings – already a deep well of misinformation and conspiracy theories, and because the speech is non-political. Francesca Panetta: When you are face swapping someone onto a video where they haven't consented. Yeah. It is a deepfake. In terms of putting words into someone's mouth it felt like these were words that he could well have ended up speaking. And so it kind of didn't feel so, so morally problematic. And we weren't trying to deceive the public that the moon landing never happened. Again, these were ethical questions we had around not wanting to see more misinformation about the moon landing of which there is a considerable amount already. In Event of Moon Disaster appears in the middle of the Deepfake Exhibition at the Museum of the Moving Image. After visitors have seen historical context about media manipulation, they walk into what appears to be a 1960s living room. Halsey Burgund: There's a vintage television from 1960 something. And on that TV is playing our film and it's an old CRT TV, and there's a couch in front of it that you can sit down on. There’s a carpet, a shaggy carpet. And then you can sit there and watch the whole film as though you have been invited over to a friend's house to view this historic event. It's as though you're sort of stepping back in time to 1969 and watching this for the first time. But of course things go wrong and it doesn't turn out the way that we all know it actually did. And then you come out on the far side of our installation and then you start to do the demystification process if you will, which is, helping people to understand what they just saw and how it was made and other examples, et cetera. The actual speech is short – it only takes about 2 minutes for Nixon to deliver it. But the movie doesn’t begin with Nixon walking up to the camera – it actually begins with real footage of the CBS broadcast from that mission. CBS News Voiceover: “This is CBS News color coverage of Man on the Moon. Sponsored by Kellogg's. Kellogg's puts more in your morning. Here from CBS news Apollo headquarters at Kennedy Space Center: Correspondent, Walter Cronkite.” But as the video continues, the real broadcast is edited in such a way to show something going wrong with the mission – a disinformation technique much older than deepfake. Francesca Panetta: I searched through enormous amounts of audio material trying to find any sound of stress in the voices of the mission control and the astronauts, which is really hard because those astronauts are really trained never to sound perturbed or scared in any way. We found one alarm that went off and we repeated it over and over again. Halsey Burgund: This alarm is going and it's beeping and we don't know what it is and, “Oh no, communications cut off!” And then we kind of leave it up to the viewer to sort of think about what might've happened. And we put in a bit of sort of lunar surface footage to sort of make it feel like, okay, they've crashed but, you're still there with them a little bit. Halsey Burgund: I forget who coined the term cheap fake, but is what has existed in the, as long as media has existed, there's been the ability to do this kind of deceptive editing, by the way that's happening with audio too. You are going to take my interview and you're going to chop it up and take a piece here and a piece there and put them together, hopefully in a way that represents fairly what I'm trying to communicate. These are very standard editing techniques that more available to everybody nowadays,then some of this is sort of AI enabled stuff like deepfakes. So we're making something fake out of a lot of truths and we're wrapping something fake with a lot of archival, true quote-unquote footage. And, we all know that the Apollo 11 mission did happen. And, we know that Walter Cronkite was a real anchor and covered it and there's all these truths in there, and then we, boom, we hit you with this massive, piece of disinformation that changes everything, but wrapping it in those truths, I think makes it so much more believable. Beginning with real unedited TV coverage, then moving to real footage edited to tell a story that didn’t happen, then transitioning to the Nixon deepfake speech works really well in an audio/visual medium. That’s the subtitle of the installation as a whole: Unstable Evidence on Screen. Francesca Panetta: As an artist and director, but also journalists, I think very carefully about the context. In which people come across content. So the attention that they will have, the amount of time they're likely to spend, how they're coming to the project. Because the whole exhibition is set up this way, there is an opportunity to really engage on it on a deeper level than is possible on an online context . There are different crafts for different mediums. Panetta and Burgund are demonstrating the tools of misinformation in the medium of TV. On this show, we think of museums as a medium too. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that most people are more conscious about the possibility of misinformation on social media or on TV than in a museum. And one of the things that attracted me to this project was seeing something deliberately fake put in the middle of a museum – a medium that still scores very high on the list of most trustworthy institutions. Halsey Burgund: Bringing it into a museum context in some ways it is a bit odd to bring into this traditionally thought of as a purely authoritative and factual and accurate space to bring something into it that is, in a certain sense inaccurate. Halsey Burgund: It makes me think about sort of museums when I was growing up the thought of even whispering to somebody while walking through the hallowed halls of the museum was, “oh my gosh, I can't believe you'd even, shhh be quiet!” And now things have, you know, thankfully, and I think this is a positive direction: people are a little more relaxed about that. The film works so well on a CRT TV set in a living room because that’s how the vast majority of people experienced the actual moon landing. The grainy TV footage is shorthand for the era itself. Panetta and Burgund have created a believable fake broadcast of a failed Apollo 11 mission. But I would love to take it a step further — instead of the primary medium being TV, what if the project was a fake museum exhibit? What would it feel like to walk into a dark gallery titled “The Last Moments of Apollo 11.” Dioramas of the lunar surface sit under speakers looping the last radio communication with the astronauts. Somewhere in the gallery, on not a living room TV, but on a flat panel screen is Nixon’s speech, forever echoing words he would have said. How would the medium of a fake history museum feel different from the CRT TV broadcasting fake history in the living room? Francesca Panetta: I think it's very obvious from how we all see media technology rapidly developing that, these kinds of tools develop very fast. That will be the case with artificial intelligence as well. Even in just seeing over the few years in which Halsey and I have been working in this area, we've seen incredible increases in what is possible in live face swapping and deepfaking, which wasn't possible when we started this project. I personally have no doubt. This'll be easy to do very realistically in the future. But I think also the familiarity with these kinds of techniques will become more widely known. So just like now, when a general member of the public looks at a photo, they will expect, well, that it's probably been photoshopped or had some filters on it. The kind of techniques of AI I hope will become more generally known by the public. And that's certainly what this project is trying to do is is make people aware about these kinds of possibilities. Because it's a new technique, it is not as widely known as more conventional editing techniques, but that's essentially where we need to get to so that as the technologies develop, so do the public's understanding of those capacities. You can and should watch the full version of the excellent In Event of Moon Disaster at moondisaster.org. It’s accompanying exhibit, Deepfake: Unstable Evidence on Screen is at the Museum of the Moving Image in New York City until May 15, 2022. This has been Museum Archipelago. Museum Archipelago is an ad-free, listener supported podcast. If you enjoy this show, if you find it a meaningful addition to your week, please support us by joining Club Archipelago. Once you join Club Archipelago, you’ll find dozens and dozens of bonus episodes – including hour plus shows where special guests and I dive deep into museum movies and documentaries. But the best reason to join Club Archipelago is to make sure this podcast continues to exist. You can join club archipelago at http://jointhemuseum.club.
Jan 17, 2022
14 min
96. Tegan Kehoe Explores American Healthcare Through 50 Museum Artifacts
Public historian and writer Tegan Kehoe knows that museum visitors act differently around the same object presented in different contexts—like how the same visitor excited by a bayonet that causes a triangular wound in an exhibit of 18th-century weapons could be disgusted by that same artifact when it’s presented in an exhibit of 18th-century medicine. Kehoe, who specialises in the history of healthcare and medical science, is attuned to how objects can inspire empathy, especially in the healthcare context. Kehoe’s new book, Exploring American Healthcare through 50 Historic Treasures, looks for opportunities for empathy in museum exhibits all around the U.S. Each of the 50 artifacts presented in the book becomes a physical lens through which to examine the complexities of American society’s relationship with health, from a 1889 bottle of “Hostetter’s Celebrated Stomach Bitters” that claimed to cure a host of ailments to activist Ed Roberts’s power wheelchair that he customized to work with his range of motion. In this episode, Kehoe describes how her work has helped her see tropes in the way museums tend to present medical topics and artifacts, how the aura of medical expertise is often culturally granted, and how living through the current coronavirus pandemic changed her relationship with many of the artifacts. Image: Ed Roberts's Wheelchair, National Museum of American History. Treasures of American History online exhibition. Topics and Notes 00:00 Intro 00:15 The Old State House “Weapons of the American Revolution” and “Medicine and the American Revolution” 01:35 Tegan Kehoe 02:00 Exploring American Healthcare Through 50 Historic Treasures 02:30 How Museums Tend to Present Medical History 05:40 Who Is “Worthy” of the Most Care? 08:02 Ed Roberts’s Power Wheelchair 10:06 Ambulance Damaged in the 9/11 Attacks 11:28 Lessons from the Latest Pandemic 13:41 Pre-Order Exploring American Healthcare Through 50 Historic Treasures 14:00 Outro | Join Club Archipelago 🏖 Museum Archipelago is a tiny show guiding you through the rocky landscape of museums. Subscribe to the podcast via Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Overcast, Spotify, or even email to never miss an episode. Support Museum Archipelago Directly 🏖️ Club Archipelago offers exclusive access to Museum Archipelago extras. It’s also a great way to support the show directly. Join the Club for just $2/month. Your Club Archipelago membership includes: Access to a private podcast that guides you further behind the scenes of museums. Hear interviews, observations, and reviews that don’t make it into the main show; Archipelago at the Movies 🎟️, a bonus bad-movie podcast exclusively featuring movies that take place at museums; Logo stickers, pins and other extras, mailed straight to your door; A warm feeling knowing you’re supporting the podcast. Transcript Below is a transcript of Museum Archipelago episode 96. For more information on the people and ideas in the episode, refer to the links above. View Transcript Welcome to Museum Archipelago. I'm Ian Elsner. Museum Archipelago guides you through the rocky landscape of museums. Each episode is never longer than 15 minutes, so let's get started. Museum curator and historian Daniel Neff used to present tours in the Old Statehouse Museum in Boston, the site of the Boston Massacre in 1770. One tour was called “Weapons of the American Revolution” and went into gory detail of the carnage inflicted by bayonets and musket balls. At the same museum, Neff also presented a tour called “Medicine and the American Revolution,” often featuring the same grizzly battle wounds. As his colleague and today’s guest Tegan Kehoe recalls, Neff started to notice a difference between the way visitors responded to each of the tours. Tegan Kehoe: He remarked a number of times that visitors who seemed otherwise temperamentally the same, sometimes even the same visitors would react very differently to hearing about a particular type of battle wound, depending on whether they were on the weapons tour or the medicine tour. And it seemed that people on the weapons tour were imagining themselves inflicting those injuries. And on the medicine tour, they were imagining being the victim and being the patient. And that's just such a powerful way of thinking about how people are relating to the content and museums and how people are relating to history. Neff’s observation is featured in the introduction of Kehoe’s new book: Exploring American Healthcare through 50 Historic Treasures. Tegan Kehoe: Hello, my name is Tegan Kehoe. I'm a public historian and writer specializing in the history of healthcare and medical science. I work at the Paul S. Russell, MD Museum of Medical History and Innovation at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. And my forthcoming book is Exploring American Healthcare through 50 Historic Treasures, which is coming out from AASLH press in January. Exploring American Healthcare through 50 Historic Treasures looks at the fields of medicine and public health through the lens of artifacts in museums and historic sites around the country. Kehoe’s day job at a museum of medical history, where she researches and writes museum exhibits, has helped her see tropes in the way museums tend to present medical topics and artifacts. Tegan Kehoe: Museums, especially generalist museums tackling a medical history topic will often go for the gruesome because that is a hook for people. And I very much understand why exhibits tend to latch onto the gruesome and the macabre in medical history. But it can be a little bit narrow sometimes. And then the other thing that I see in exhibits especially of museums that do focus on healthcare or medicine is this narrative of progress. Of sort of the march of scientific progress always moving forward. And they'll go for sort of emphasizing the way in which medicine before a particular period was particularly primitive. And there isn't necessarily a particular set of imagery or exhibit style choices that goes with that the way there is with the sort of the more gruesome stuff. But I think this idea of “look how great progress is”, which I don't disagree with, but it's another way that it can be a very narrow way of looking at healthcare. Each chapter in the book centers around a different historic artifact, arranged in chronological order to tell the story of American medical history. Chapter one is a wax model of a scrotum showing what was know as children’s chimney sweep cancer at the Mütter Museum in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania – typical of the models doctors and medical students used to study a variety of diseases in the eighteenth century. Chapter 24 is a bubonic plague pathology slide at a collection at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, Texas, from a cluster of outbreaks that happened along the U.S.’s Gulf Coast in 1920. By grounding the narrative in objects, Kehoe is doing two things – first, copying the presentation style of most museums for artifacts that are scattered across the United States. And second, providing a window to a particular time and place. As Kehoe writes, “Looking at healthcare history through artifacts can help us see the people of the past as people, people who drank beer, waited for the nurse to read their high temperature, or hoped against hope that the new medication they took would prolong their life.” Tegan Kehoe: Not being able to play with placement and just having those sort of static images, gave me a lot of freedom. So in the chapter about an infant incubator, I wasn't able to find any stories about a baby who might have been in that incubator, but I found a lot of information about a baby from a few years off from when that incubator was in use, but from the same county, really closely connected to the story. And I could trust the readers making it clear that this baby wasn't in this incubator, but I can trust them to sort of make that connection. So I was able to kind of go off on this in a way that I could do in a museum exhibit if I had room for it, but in a small object label, you wouldn't necessarily be able to. And so I could use that freedom a little bit to get the fuller story. That fuller story, the story of American healthcare, touches on the societal ideas of who was worthy of a lot of care, and who was worthy of less care. And these societal ideas go both ways – Kehoe maps out varying levels of trust in medicine and medical institutions over time – something that medicine shares with museums. Tegan Kehoe: I think that one of the similarities that's really striking to me is that in both medicine and museums, that expertise is–well, the expertise is real, it's based on study and work and certain methodologies–but that aura of expertise is kind of culturally granted. Tegan Kehoe: And in both medicine and museums, it's culturally granted by the dominant, powerful culture within our society. It's white middle-class and upper-middle-class with certain educational backgrounds are the ones who trust doctors the most and trust museums the most. I don't have stats to back that up, but I know that the people who are most likely to be disregarded by either their doctor or by a museum exhibit are also the ones most likely to say, that's not for me. I'm not welcome there. I don't fit in there. Authority is messy when people feel like that authority is top-down and doesn't involve listening. And I think that's something that rings, throughout both medicine and museums. Kehoe points to various movements in which doctors or self-styled doctors challenge established healthcare institutions, using newspaper advertisements or their own self-funded schools to create authority. Tegan Kehoe: I have a chapter on 19th-century alternative medicine and there the problem or the perceived problem was that conventional medicine was thought to be really dangerous, largely because it was. If this is kind of the 1830s is sort of the era when the chapter begins, a lot of bloodletting, as in, cutting someone open and letting them bleed until they were weak. And that was thought to restore balance in the body. But the problem there was an ideological one for patients. Do we go with what doctors are prescribing or do we go with this street salesman who says that if I take the right herbs, I'll be able to treat myself and I won't need doctors ever again? An artifact from the 20th century is the modified power wheelchair that belonged to activist Ed Roberts, now in the Smithsonian National Museum of American History. Tegan Kehoe: I think one of my favorite objects in the book is the power wheelchair that belonged to Ed Roberts, who was one of the biggest pioneers of the disability rights movement and the independent living movement within disability rights. He became disabled as a teenager because of polio. And one of his memories of that experience that he used in talking about his experiences–because he was a very eminent public speaker who campaigned for disability rights–he would talk about a doctor telling his mother within his earshot that she should hope that he dies because if he lived, he would be nothing but a vegetable. And that ended up sort of galvanizing him, but this really disgusting level of prejudice coming from someone who was supposed to be helping him through the huge changes affecting his body at the time. And so he would have absolutely seen a doctor as an authority figure, but not an authority figure in the sense of someone to trust. That would be an authority figure in the sense of someone who might be doing gatekeeping, someone who might be changing your level of access to the care that you need. Tegan Kehoe: He got a power chair while he was in college, so that he could have more independence. He sometimes related that it was so that he could go on dates without having an attendant chaperone the date because he needed someone to push his wheelchair. And at first he was told that he couldn't use a power chair because he didn't have the correct range of motion in his hand to be able to use the controls. And he realized that if they installed the controls on his otherwise commercially-built wheelchair backwards, that the range of motion he did have in his hand was completely adequate to operate the chair and so it was a customized chair in that way. One of the last artifacts presented in the book is an ambulance damaged in the September 11th attacks, in the collection of the 9/11 memorial museum in New York. Like always, the artifact is the jumping off point to a much larger story–in this case, Kehoe details the history of emergency medical services–from transport of the sick during epidemics to battlefield ambulances during the American Civil War. Tegan Kehoe: The artifact in this chapter is an ambulance that was on the scene, and that was badly damaged after the second tower fell. So the two EMTs who had been in the ambulance, they both survived. They were not in the ambulance at the time that it fell. But they were responding before the second tower fell. And I felt so incredibly lucky that both of them had given oral histories that were publicly available. And so I can read their experiences of that absolutely horrible day and being separated from their work partner for hours with no way to find out whether the other person was alive and just these absolutely gut wrenching, heart wrenching stories. And I think that 9/11 is a perfect example of that as well as we're always living through history, but that is a moment that everyone understood immediately that it would be historic. The ambulance from 9/11 is an example of an artifact that was collected for a museum soon after it was used – I’m not sure what medical artifacts, if any, were collected after treating the wounded of the Boston Massacre. It won’t be long, if it hasn’t happened already, that museums will display commercial and homemade masks from the current coronavirus pandemic along with banners thanking healthcare workers. The coronavirus pandemic is not covered in this book – Kehoe started writing the book before the outbreak. Tegan Kehoe: In terms of the actual writing of the book: about the second half of it was during the pandemic, which certainly changed my research process and also changed my relationship to the material a little bit, because I was writing about medical history while living medical history. Tegan Kehoe: I mean, we're all living history all the time, but it's a little more noticeable during something like a pandemic. But while the coronavirus pandemic is not covered in this book, you can feel your own experience of the pandemic in almost every artifact. Before the outbreak, I didn’t think much about how health and healthcare don’t exist in a vacuum. I didn’t appreciate how the decisions that patients, providers, researchers, and public health professionals make are not only informed by correct or incorrect understandings of current medical science, but also by a host of other factors. Tegan Kehoe: People who are dealing with healthcare, whether they're dealing as patients or providers or researchers, or some combination, they're always looking for answers to questions. And what answers they come up with is going to be influenced by science, but also by culture. By what kind of trust relationship they have with the other people in the equation. By the technology that's available in the day. By so many other things. Tegan Kehoe: And so when you're able to take a step back and look at kind of the various ways that people are involved with health care and with medicine holistically, there are a lot of common themes, but very few are sort of universal. And that idea of everyone approaching it with questions and there are a lot of influences that affect their answers is the kernel that I'm actually confident in saying is universal. And I think that that's also the place that my book really connects to the pandemic You can pre-order Exploring American Healthcare through 50 Historic Treasures anywhere books are sold, but I recommend going to bookshop.org/shop/tegankehoe, where you can both support independent bookstores and check out her other writings. This has been Museum Archipelago. Museum Archipelago is an ad-free, listener supported podcast. If you enjoy this show, if you find it a meaningful addition to your week, please support us by joining Club Archipelago. Once you join Club Archipelago, you’ll find dozens and dozens of bonus episodes – including hour plus shows where special guests and I dive deep into museum movies and documentaries. But the best reason to join Club Archipelago is to make sure this podcast continues to exist. You can join club archipelago at http://jointhemuseum.club.
Nov 15, 2021
14 min
95. The Museum of Technology in Helsinki, Finland Knows Even the Most Futuristic Technology Will One Day Be History
In 1969, noticing that technological progress was changing their fields, heads of Finish industry came together to found a technology museum in Finland. Today, the Museum of Technology in Helsinki is the only general technological museum in the country. But of course, technical progress didn’t stop changing, as service coordinator Maddie Hentunen notes, and that can be challenging for a museum to keep up. In this episode, Hentunen describes the museum’s philosophical stance on technology, how the museum balances industrial development with more open source design practices, and how the museum thinks about its own obsolescence. Topics and Notes 00:00 Intro 00:15 1969 in Technology 00:49 Maddie Hentunen 01:02 The Museum of Technology in Helsinki, Finland 02:34 The Museum’s Building 03:51 Original Exhibits 04:50 Today’s Exhibits 07:07 The Museum’s Philosophical Stance on Technology 10:29 Outro | Join Club Archipelago 🏖 Museum Archipelago is a tiny show guiding you through the rocky landscape of museums. Subscribe to the podcast via Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Overcast, Spotify, or even email to never miss an episode. Unlock Club Archipelago 🏖️ If you like episodes like this one, you’ll love Club Archipelago. It offers exclusive access to Museum Archipelago extras. It’s also a great way to support the show directly. Join the Club for just $2/month. Your Club Archipelago membership includes: Access to a private podcast that guides you further behind the scenes of museums. Hear interviews, observations, and reviews that don’t make it into the main show; Archipelago at the Movies 🎟️, a bonus bad-movie podcast exclusively featuring movies that take place at museums; Logo stickers, pins and other extras, mailed straight to your door; A warm feeling knowing you’re supporting the podcast. Transcript Below is a transcript of Museum Archipelago episode 95. For more information on the people and ideas in the episode, refer to the links above. View Transcript Ian Elsner: Welcome to Museum Archipelago. I'm Ian Elsner. Museum Archipelago guides you through the rocky landscape of museums. Each episode is never longer than 15 minutes, so let's get started. Ian Elsner: 1969 was a banner year for technological advancement: for one, it’s the year humans first walked on the moon. It was also -- and this is not unrelated to technological advancement -- right in the middle of the Cold War. Maddie Hentunen: 1969 in Finland was kind of a fraught time politically in a way that it was still the era of the cold war and we're right next to Russia. Maddie Hentunen: So our political relationship with Russia has always been kind of a tightrope. We've always gazed eastwords with care and especially at that time. Ian Elsner: This is Maddie Hentunen, service coordinator at the Museum of Technology in Helsinki, Finland. Maddie Hentunen: Hello. My name is Maddie Hentunen, and right now I am the service coordinator here in the museum of technology in Helsinki, Finland. Ian Elsnsr: The museum of technology was founded in that banner year of 1969 by heads of Finish industries. The idea was to make a general technology museum in Finland. The point is that it’s not siloed by industrial sector. Maddie Hentunen: I think at that point, the global sort of Zeitgeist, the technology of the time was taking massive leaps forward. So at that time there were these, let's say there was a coalition in a very loose meaning of the word of these gigantic, in Finish scale, gigantic, industry had sort of, let's say, the forest industry, which in Finland has always been massive And then there was the metal industry, which includes the mining industry and, and the chemistry industry thinks like this, who felt the need for some kind of preservation because they started to, in their respective fields, notice that things are changing. And a lot of the old sort of wisdom, a lot of the old ways are gone. Pull it behind us in the past. Maddie Hentunen: I feel that is very unique in a way or very, nice in that sense is that they actually came together and made that decision that we will make this sort of generalized museum of technology instead of making a forestry technical museum or a chemistry museum or stuff like that. It was a cooperative mission, so to speak. So that's actually how first our collection started to build. We've got these big donations from different fields, industrial fields that are still big parts of our collections. Ian Elsner: The newly-founded museum decided it would use Finland’s first water purification plant -- built in 1877 -- as its main exhibit building -- it’s a delightfully squat round building that used to be filled with sand that the water filtered through -- water that would eventually be used for drinking or firefighting. Maddie Hentunen: Helsinki started to grow pretty fast after the 1850s or so. So after that there was a real need for purified water. And, also, because the city was mostly built of wood. So also the fire security was a big question. But yeah, basically this is a giant round building, which was filled with water and sand. This place of course is very much part of the Finish industrial history. So it was like the perfect place, because at that point in the 1960s, when it turned into 1970s and when then this plant was closed down and it and the space was empty. Maddie Hentunen: One of the most common things that people say when they walk in that door, they say, oh, it's bigger on the inside! I was a Doctor Who fan and I sort of got the TARDIS-like feel when I came in. Ian Elsner: In this building, the museum first opened to the public in 1985, and some of these original exhibits were still being displayed until fairly recently. Maddie Hentunen: Back then it was a very different museum. There was still a lot of the old museum thinking sort of like straggling. One of the 1985 exhibitions, the old communication exhibition, was still here, I think, five years ago. So it had a really long sort of shelf life that exhibition. And you could very clearly see that it was from a very different time that it was filled with artifacts. It was filled with stuff. And also the text were like super long, unreadable mostly, only in one language, which was Finnish at that time. Maddie Hentunen: It was not very approachable. It was really cool to just look at things, but it was not super informative. You had to sort of guess what is this? And then there was those wall of texts somewhere, and you thought you had to go and find to be able to connect the artifact with the text. As we know, then the whole museum thinking around exhibitions has changed drastically. Ian Elsner: Today, with the new exhibits, the museum features much shorter informative text in three languages: Finnish, Swedish, and English. As the Finnish industry has changed, so have the exhibits: giant machines used for forestry and mining share the open, circular space with tiny cell phones made by the Finnish firm Nokia and interactive touchscreen exhibits that teach the basics of computer programming. Ian Elsner: Visiting the museum in 2021, the Nokia cell phones look impossibly out of date -- in the way that history tends to compress itself, a phone from 15 years ago looks almost contemporaneous to a TV camera from 50 years ago. But it wasn’t that long ago, before the arrival of the iPhone, that it seemed like Nokia phones -- proudly designed in Finland -- would continue to be ubiquitous. Maddie Hentunen: Maddie Hentunen: Everybody had a Nokia phone at some point and that all the movies were. I remember when The Matrix came out and they had, they had their, their phones and everything that it was like, it was everywhere. And I think we're sort of still in that mind frame, even though Nokia has kind of declined from that. Ian Elsner: But the way the museum approaches the gulf between past, current, and future technology is fascinating -- the museum knows that even the most futuristic technology will one day be history. Maddie Hentunen: The past, the present and the future are all equally important. I think the Museum of Technology is in a special position in that sense, that technology changes so incredibly fast right now and has been doing that for the past 100 years or so, in Finland and everywhere else too. Maddie Hentunen: So we actually really need to be able to preserve the present and also stay one step ahead of the curve, so to speak. So we can guess what's going to happen in the future so we can start the preservation of those things so that we can sort of in the future, have a comprehensive set of material or remains in our exhibitions and in our collections. Maddie Hentunen: And I think that is one thing that we really want also for other people to see in our exhibitions that museums are not all about the past. Museums are not all about, the material remains of the very old age. It's also about what happens now and what's going to happen tomorrow because all of that is going to turn into history at some point. Ian Elsner: The Museum is a museum of technology, not a museum of industry. So how does a museum that was founded by industry heads explore the full range of technological advancement, including, say open source methods that are often developed outside of industrial contexts? Maddie Hentunen: So this is like the innovation part is something that we have really heavily tried to integrate it into our museum thinking here. We have cooperated with a lot of smaller companies or smaller, hobby groups. Right now we have this one special exhibition that has amateur radio technology. That has been built in very close collaboration with the actual hobby groups and the people who are the specialists in that who know a lot more about this, than any of us here in our museum staff do. Maddie Hentunen: That is one of the things that we really want to heavily push moving forward that we want to collaborate with people from various backgrounds, also of course,the big industry, because that is obviously part of technology, but also the smaller groups. And of course the innovation often begins somewhere small and not in the biggest sort of fields. Maddie Hentunen: It's somewhere small and somewhere like very personal. So those are the stories we actually love. Of course, as museum professionals and cultural professionals. Ian Elsner: Like the tightrope of Finland’s political relationship with Russia, the museum walks the tightrope of Finish industry’s relationship to society. Those moon landings probably wouldn’t have happened in 1969 if the US and the USSR weren’t locked in a cold war. Maddie Hentunen: We come clean with the fact that industry is a big polluter. Many of the things that have been done in this field and are still done in this field are incredibly harmful for the environment. So I think our stance in that is like, basically, acknowledging that fact and recycling is a theme that comes up in several different exhibitions that we really want to lift up. Maddie Hentunen: In Finland, the recycling part of everything has been going on since after the war because of the war reparations that we had to pay to the Soviet Union. The after war years were desperately poor in Finland. So everything kind of had to be recycled. And we had to get really innovative about recycling. Maddie Hentunen: But still, the parts that come from industry because, consumers, we can only do so much, but one of the really big things about being environmentally friendly is that we get the big industrial movers and shakers to understand that they also need to recycle their industrial waste, which can be incredibly harmful and they get such vast quantities of that. Ian Elsner: The museum features a giant claw used to pick up and process metal scraps, as well as a completely crushed car, a block of twisted metal and rubber. Apparently, even the way cars are crushed has changed -- now the rubber is removed first to be recycled separately. And that’s why Hentuen says that the museum’s new rule is short shelf lives for their exhibits. Maddie Hentunen: So we are happy with our current exhibitions because they have all been renewed quite recently, but they have not been built to last forever. Maybe that is one thing that has changed from the past museum thinking that now we have built this exhibition and is going to stay like this until the apocalypse. Maddie Hentunen: And, right now we built a shelf life for our exhibitions. So like maybe ten years max. And then it has to be reviewed again. This has been Museum Archipelago.
Aug 30, 2021
11 min
94. Jazz Dottin Guides Viewers Through Massachusetts’s Buried Black History
The deliberate exclusion of Black history and the history of slavery in the American South has been slow to reverse. But Jazz Dottin, creator and host of the Black Gems Unearthed YouTube channel says it can be just as slow in New England. Each video features Dottin somewhere in her home state of Massachusetts, often in front of a plaque or historical marker, presenting what’s missing, excluded, or downplayed. The history discussed on Black Gems Unearthed has been left out by conventional museums, which are among the most trustworthy institutions in modern American life, according to the American Alliance of Museums. This trust may have more to do with power than truth-telling — and today, there are many different ways to build trust with an audience online. Shows like Dottin’s might point to where our new relationship with the authoritative voice is heading. In this episode, Dottin describes how working as tour guide and creating travel itineraries influences her work today, how she came up with the idea for Black Gems Unearthed, and what the future holds. Image: Jazz Dottin in front of Emancipation in Boston, Mass. Topics and Notes 00:00 Intro 00:15 “Always Read The Plaque” 00:45 Jazz Dottin 01:00 Black Gems Unearthed 01:20 Hopkinton, Massachusetts 02:00 Exploring Black lives in MetroWest, MA in the 1700s - Black Gems Unearthed 02:26 Museum Archipelago 42. Freddi Williams Evans and Luther Gray Are Erecting Historic Markers on the Slave Trade in New Orleans 02:55 The Legacy of Slavery in New England 03:50 Working as a Tour Guide 05:35 The Idea for Black Gems Unearthed 08:21 Museums and Trustworthiness 09:36 Where The Name Comes From 10:10 Outro | Join Club Archipelago 🏖 11:39 What’s It Like Giving A Tour on A Segway? Museum Archipelago is a tiny show guiding you through the rocky landscape of museums. Subscribe to the podcast via Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Overcast, Spotify, or even email to never miss an episode. Unlock Club Archipelago 🏖️ If you like episodes like this one, you’ll love Club Archipelago. It offers exclusive access to Museum Archipelago extras. It’s also a great way to support the show directly. Join the Club for just $2/month. Your Club Archipelago membership includes: Access to a private podcast that guides you further behind the scenes of museums. Hear interviews, observations, and reviews that don’t make it into the main show; Archipelago at the Movies 🎟️, a bonus bad-movie podcast exclusively featuring movies that take place at museums; Logo stickers, pins and other extras, mailed straight to your door; A warm feeling knowing you’re supporting the podcast. Transcript Below is a transcript of Museum Archipelago episode 94. For more information on the people and ideas in the episode, refer to the links above. View Transcript Welcome to Museum Archipelago. I'm Ian Elsner. Museum Archipelago guides you through the rocky landscape of museums. Each episode is never longer than 15 minutes, so let's get started. There’s a saying among history nerds: always read the plaque. Roman Mars: “Always read the plaque.” But of course, the plaques don’t tell the whole story. Maybe a better mantra would be “start by reading the plaque.” Jazz Dottin: If I see plaques, I have to stop and read them. But with Black history, you know, there's not as many plaques, if any at all that are describing events and people and things that have happened in different areas across the country. This is Jazz Dottin, creator and host of a new YouTube channel called Black Gems Unearthed. Jazz Dottin: Hello, my name is Jazz Dottin and I am the host of Black Gems Unearthed, which is a YouTube series where I talk about Black history around the state of Massachusetts. So I am an experienced tour guide. I develop travel programs and itineraries, and now I'm working in the academic world at a university in Massachusetts. Dottin grew up in Hopkinton, Massachusetts, just outside of Boston. Jazz Dottin: A small town, suburb outside of Boston. 21 miles or however many miles a marathon is where the start of the Boston marathon is. When I was growing up in Huffington, I don't have memories of learning about local Black history. And I was just curious about Hopkinton as I was starting to make these videos and started to do a little bit of digging. An episode of Black Gems Unearthed describes when she figured out that a stone wall next to one of the streets that she drove down as a child was probably built by enslaved Africans. Jazz Dottin (from Black Gems Unearthed): “It came up in the research that Africans likely built the tiers that you can see on the grass behind me, you can kind of see three layers, and they also may have done work on the wall that’s behind me too.” Jazz Dottin: And it just feels eerie to know that there was slavery in this town that is just known for being a nice suburb to live in. That is part of the legacy that people may or may not realize it's like in our DNA. In episode 42 of Museum Archipelago, we spoke with Freddi Williams Evans and Luther Gray, who in 2018, erected one of the first plaques detailing New Orleans’s slave trading past. The deliberate exclusion of Black history and the history of slavery in the Amerian South has been slow to reverse. But Dottin says it can be just as slow in the North. Jazz Dottin: I just think it's the power of storytelling. We've told the stories for so long that the North was the place where people went to be free and it was valued. And we did everything in our power to end slavery. And the South was bad because they enslaved people, but really hello! We were connected in the institution of slavery. So we really need to address the past and discuss it and look at it because it has shaped our communities and the way that we view ourselves, which may or may not be accurate. The connections to the institution of slavery in the American North come both from a time when slavery was legal in New England, and later when slavery was illegal but pwerful families profited from the slave trade and related buisnesses. Dottin was familiar with some of these connections -- say, a mansion belonging to one of these families -- because she worked as a tour guide for over 10 years. Jazz Dottin: I actually graduated from Temple University from their Tourism and Hospitality program. I did a lot of work as a tour guide in my undergraduate program, like I used to give tours on segways and then I gave culinary tours. So I was the actual guide, but then I also have experience developing itineraries. I worked for Road Scholar, which is an educational travel company for older adults. And there, I actually pieced together itineraries based on a theme, say, people want to learn about the history of women's suffrage. We would put together an itinerary that had lectures and trips to visit museums and local sites that related to getting women the right to vote. One of Dottin’s biggest challenges as a tour guide was trying to present Black history to an audience that wasn’t expecting it. Jazz Dottin: Most of our itineraries were European-centric. So you're seeing allhese sites that are well-known tourist attractions, but where is that black history? And so that might have meant including a lecture about the fact that there were people that were enslaved that work here, or including maybe a music presentation from a group that's from the area that could weave together their story of how they came to live in the area. So it always felt like I was just sprinkling in a couple of fun facts. The itineraries are never specifically about Black history. At least the ones that I was working on. It's just the reality of developing itineraries for a primarily white audience and an older adult audience is just that wasn't necessarily what they were we're looking for. Dottin first came up with the idea for a video-based guided tour focusing on Black history in Massachusetts in 2020 after the murder of George Floyd. Jazz Dottin: Yeah, it was a result of George Floyd's murder. I was just very upset. Seeing what happened and just realizing that so many people were shocked by what happened when this is something that happens on a regular... Black people are murdered regularly throughout the United States for, for small issues and for no issues whatsoever. So I was very upset by what happened. And I was upset by the reactions that companies had. Some that did not want to make statements. Some that did make statements that just didn't feel like there was any action behind it. So I decided, you know what, now's the time I'm going to make videos because I have a smartphone. I am going to get Adobe Premier and the software. I need to be able to make this. I had an interest in creating walking tours, but I just realized, you know, we're also in the middle of a pandemic. Why don't we just focus on making videos? And it'll help me learn the information better. And perhaps people will enjoy watching it too. By making and editing the videos, Dottin has complete control over the topics and what is being presented. The format is effective: every video features Dottin looking right at the camera on site somewhere in Massachusetts -- often in front of a plaque or historical marker. Her well-researched narration, supplemented by historical photos and passages from documents, presents what’s missing, excluded, or downplayed. The episodes weave together multiple stories, all tied together with a strong sense of place. Jazz Dottin: I'm researching the topic and then I'm hunting around for photos that are relevant. That's probably the hardest part. Where can I find photos, pictures, and items that I can include, then actually making the video. Dottin says it takes about a month to make a video. The research buttresses Dottin’s effective presentation style, which features genuine excitement and subtle sarcasm -- it builds trust, and as a viewer, I would prefer to listen to Dottin explain something instead of another tour guide if given the choice. Jazz Dottin: So you know what? I do watch a lot of videos on YouTube also as another way to learn history as I'm making videos too. And sometimes the videos are a little dry, so I try and make the videos sound like I am talking to friends because I wouldn't talk to friends in the same way I might deliver information in more of an academic setting. Just trying to kind of change the energy around how information is presented. The American Alliance of Museums often says that museums are the most trustworthy institutions in modern American life. And the statistics are remarkable: some surveys indicate that museums are the second most trusted news source after friends and family. We’ve argued before that this high level of trust might have more to do with power than truth telling. But today, there are many different ways to build trust with an audience online, and shows like Dottin’s might point to where our new relationship with authoritative voice is heading. In this model, the museum becomes the middleman. The plaques become the setting. Given that museums have excluded Black history from their halls for so long, it’s appealing that projects like Black Gems Unearthed allow people to go directly to the source -- a personality that’s trusted even more than museums. Jazz Dottin: So I have been reading books for a long time on Black history, and I've kind of pinned down where people have lived and where events have taken place. So I figured, you know what, why don't I just make some videos about this because more people than just my friends that happened to be with me could benefit from knowing this information. Black history is kind of hidden. It's not in clear sight, but then I was also thinking about how Black history is so important. It's really valuable. And I was talking to my partner about it and he was like, “oh, gems are formed in bedrock under a lot of pressure.” And I was like, yeah, you're onto something. There’s Black Gems! And we're Unearthing them! Yes, this is the name: Black Gems Unearthed. You can find Black Gems Unearthed on YouTube by searching for Black Gems Unearthed. The project also has a website at blackgemsunearthed.com. In every episode, you’ll see Dottin in front of a plaque somewhere in Massachusetts, telling a much deeper story than what’s printed. Jazz Dottin: I'm very hopeful for the future of the museums in Massachusetts and in Boston that they'll keep sharing information about Black history and just history from groups that have not oftentimes been showcased. This has been Museum Archipelago. You love Museum Archipelago. But maybe you don’t love that each show is only 15 minutes. Well now, there’s a way to support the show while getting more. By joining Club Archipelago, you get access to hour-long episodes where I dive deep into pop culture about museums — movies like 2006’s Night at the Museum, 1966’s How To Steal A Million, and 2001’s Atlantis: The Lost Empire — with friends and fellow museum folks. It’s a lot of fun! If you want to kick back and listen to a whole lot more about how pop culture reflects museums back to us, join Club Archipelago today for $2 a month at jointhemuseum.club. Thanks for listening. For a full transcript of this episode, as well as show notes and links. Visit museumarchipelago.com. Thanks for listening. And next time, bring a friend. What is it like giving a tour on the segway? Jazz Dottin: Exhilarating? Oh yeah. I mean, all of your senses are coming together at once because you're riding the segway. You're talking about what's around you. And you're also keeping an eye that all of the participants are staying in line behind you and are not going into traffic or having any other issues...
Jun 28, 2021
11 min
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