Smithsonian Institution Summer Institute in Museum Anthropology
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STUDENT PROJECTS AND COMMENTS
Students pursue a range of individual research projects as part of SIMA, applying lessons and carrying out preliminary data collection. Descriptions of student projects from 2009 are included here to give applicants a sense of the types of projects that are possible.
Full abstracts from the past Final Symposia are available here as a pdf:
2009 2010 2011 2012
Amy E. Chan- Arizona State University
Pictorial Engraving on Carved Ivory
An exploration of narratives embedded in ivory bow drills can expose intersections between indigenous cultural values and Western aesthetics which can be utilized to reengage communities with museum objects.
Holly Coleman- University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa
Natanaela Emesona: Understanding Nathaniel Emerson’s Hawaiian artifacts through indigenous epistemologies
By analyzing Nathaniel Emerson’s collection of Hawaiian artifacts I will explore objects and their histories as important aspects of cultural transmission, emphasizing indigenous epistemologies.
I ko‘u nānā ‘ana o nā mea Hawai‘i i ‘ohi ‘ia e Natanaela Emesona, e ‘imi ana wau i nā mo‘olelo o ua mea nei i mea e ho‘omaopopo i ke ko‘iko‘i o ka ‘ike Hawai‘i.
Nicole Goude-University of California, Los Angeles
Hybrid Intentions and Shifting Values: The Photographs of Harry Sampson, Northern Paiute
This project considers how a collection of images created by an indigenous photographer carries meaning and how the use-value of his photographs changes from their creation in Reno to their publication in the Handbook of North American Indians.
Suzanne Godby Ingalsbe- Indiana University
Examining Multiple Layers of Curation in the Berwick and Bunting Rugs
My research on NMNH prayer rugs focuses on the multiple phases of curation museum items undergo and the museum’s role in making and fixing meanings.
Keun Young Kim- University of Michigan
Comparative Analysis in Museum Classification: The Case of Chinese Collections in the US and China
My research examines how knowledge used in museum classification is culturally organized, through the comparison of Chinese objects in the US and in Chinese museums.
Eugenia Kisin- New York University
Collecting Chilkat Blankets: Materiality, Gender, and Translation on the Northwest Coast
The focus of this research is on Chilkat weavings obtained by James G. Swan, an early systematic collector of Northwest Coast objects. Framing the shifting signification of these textiles as processes of “translation,” I look at how collections-oriented research can uncover promising valences of artifacts, particularly in relation to women’s arts and issues of cultural attribution.
Stacey Loyer- Carleton University
Building Biographies: The Social Lives of Seneca Cornhusk Dolls
This projects seeks to understand meanings around Seneca cornhusk dolls and doll making through both a close analysis of several dolls’ material attributes, and a reconstruction of their social lives led before reaching their current location, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History ethnology collection.
Bryce Peake-University of Oregon
On the Semiotic Construction of a Sioux Elk Whistle
Using an approach similar to the cultural geographers Yates, Lawrence, and Donley-Reid, my project examines the raw materials of Siouan flutes and whistles for a deeper structural affinities with the “universe of discourse” that is the instrument in context.
Jodine Perkins- Indiana University
Exploring Similarity and Difference in Ethnographic Museum Collections
Beginning with Caddo and Shawnee items and within scholarship on cultural complexity, I am exploring what ethnographic museum collections can reveal about similarity and difference among Woodlands peoples.
Clark Sage- Indiana University
Recovering a Symbol of the American Indian: The Ethnohistorical Method and Plains Bonnets of the Smithsonian Collections
Using an ethnohistorical approach I will examine a sampling of nineteenth century Plains headdresses to investigate the potential of indigenously informed and nuanced typological frameworks for the understanding of material culture collections and their place across time and space.
Kristi D. Scott- Montana State University
Material Culture in Boarding Schools
Preliminary research and documentation are main focuses for this project concerning material culture collected from Indian boarding schools during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Jessica Watson- University of California-Santa Cruz
“An Embarrassment of Conditions”: Selective Knowledge Production Through Two Collections of Pomo Baskets
My project contrasts two collections of Pomo baskets ca.1900 and examines how the class, gender and ambitions of the collectors Ella F. Hubby and J.W. Hudson influenced Smithsonian curatorial interpretation.
As a student of Hawaiian History and a kanaka maoli (Native Hawaiian), I applied to SIMA in the hope that participation in the program would allow me to explore Museum Anthropology as a means to incorporate indigenous epistemologies into an existing historiography that largely ignores Hawaiian perspectives and voice. SIMA certainly presented me with this opportunity; I was able to access the Smithsonian’s vast repositories of Hawaiian material objects and corresponding archival records in ways that were personally and culturally significant to me. In fact, one of the hardest things for me to deal with during the program was trying to resist researching everything! That is not to say that SIMA was all research; some of my best memories of the program come from time spent outside the collections exploring DC with my fellow participants. The weeks I had at SIMA felt far too short, and I know that everything I learned in the program will have a lasting impact in my work.
MA Student , History
University of Hawai`i at Mānoa
As a PhD student preparing my dissertation proposal, I looked to SIMA for a chance to strengthen my museum skills before going into the field, a forum to discuss my work with scholars from other institutions and disciplines, and an opportunity to receive additional feedback on writing proposals and applying for funding. The program exceeded my expectations on all counts. The total immersion experience of SIMA - attending seminars with so many expert lecturers and immediately putting that information to use in the collections - is an amazing way to grow quickly as a researcher. The one-on-one and small-group access to faculty was incredible, and their insight and guidance has been helpful to the larger scope of my research as well as to my SIMA project. My fellow SIMA participants have also become good resources and friends, and I’m delighted to be part of the network that has formed as a result of the program. SIMA was possibly the most intense and productive month I have spent during my graduate school career, and I enjoyed it thoroughly. Three months later I was awarded a travel grant to continue the next phase of the research into prayer rugs and their collectors that I began during SIMA, and I can’t wait to continue the project I’ve started!
-Suzanne Godby Ingalsbe
PhD Student, Folklore and Ethnomusicology
As a doctoral student entering the dissertation phase of my degree, I applied to SIMA to learn about approaches to material culture that might help me think through problems and concerns I had about my own research on early twentieth century Onkwehonwe material culture and identity. And since there weren’ t many other students at my university interested in working with museum collections, I also hoped SIMA would offer me a chance to meet other students with projects similar to mine, with whom I could discuss issues related to museum anthropology. I was pleased to find the sort of scholarly community I was looking for at SIMA -- both through meeting other students from universities across the United States and Hawaii, as well through the seminars and one-on-one mentorship offered by the participating professors. Certainly, the more formal training in museums offered by SIMA have strengthened my skills as a researcher, but it was the relationships I formed through SIMA which were most influential in encouraging me to grow intellectually.
PhD Student, Cultural Mediations (Institute of Comparative Studies in Literature, Art and Culture)
I came to my doctoral studies with a strong interest in material culture as well as experience working in museums. However, as I neared the dissertation stage, I was uncertain how to translate my interest in material culture and museums into a fundable dissertation using the objects held in museums as evidence. I also wanted to improve my understanding of methodologies for the study of objects. My dissertation proposal is now much stronger due to what I learned at SIMA, and I received helpful advice that will help me to apply for dissertation funding. I also really appreciated how welcoming, helpful, and generous with their time that all the Smithsonian staff members and the SIMA faculty members were. Furthermore, I greatly benefited from interactions with SIMA’s guest instructors, who were from both the university and museum worlds. Finally, I worked with a wonderful group of fellow student participants from a variety of disciplines who will be my future colleagues in material culture studies and I look forward to future collaborations with them.
PhD Student, Folklore and Ethnomusicology
Participating in the SIMA program has been one of the best educational experiences I have ever had. Try to imagine material culture/museum studies boot camp! The resources that we had available to us were unbelievable - about a quarter million objects in the ethnology collection alone, the accession files (watch out for Victor J.), the National Anthropological Archives, the Smithsonian Archives, tours of the various research facilities, guest lecturers from around the globe, more time in the collections and archives than most researchers, all the while being guided and enthusiastically supported not only by a great faculty, but by almost everyone you come in contact with throughout the Smithsonian. This experience made the abstract theory tangible and I was able to see the potential for incorporating material culture/museum research into my dissertation.
PhD Student , Anthropology
My dissertation research is on interactions between museums and local communities in Oakland, CA, and I applied to SIMA to learn different methodological approaches to object-based research for my fieldwork. It was instrumental in teaching me methodologies that will be useful in object interpretation, curatorial analysis, and archival research. It also focused on professionalization in useful ways, specific to the field of material culture studies, including writing successful grants, publishing your article or presenting at conferences. It was an intense but very worthwhile experience!
PhD Candidate, Cultural Anthropology
University of California - Santa Cruz
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