This study path asks learners to consider how their own possessions would be described and organized in a cultural heritage institution, and reflect on the assumptions behind how we describe and interpret cultural objects.
By Todd Suomela, Interim Assistant Director, Digital Pedagogy & Scholarship, Bertrand Library at Bucknell University
- Students will understand the process of selection and description undertaken in the context of a library, archive, or museum.
- Students will apply their knowledge of taxonomies and nomenclatures used by museums and archives to physical materials they possess.
- Students will analyze the outcomes of the taxonomies and nomenclatures used in the museum and library professions.
One of the key activities of archivists, librarians, and museum professionals is the selection and description of materials for inclusion in a collection. This activity asks participants to think about how their own possessions might be represented in a museum or archive. The prompt asks students to exchange some of their personal possessions, describe the other person’s possessions, and then reflect on the experience. The goal is to examine the assumptions behind the classification of objects, to think about how those objects might be interpreted by an audience, and what types of access one would be willing to provide for the objects.
As background review the following
- Museum nomenclatures for object description: Chenhall nomenclature, Getty art and architecture nomenclature.
- Yeh, T. Y.-R., & Frosio, E. T. (1971). The Treatment of the American Indian in the Library of Congress E-F Schedule. Library Resources and Technical Services, 15(2), 122–131.
- About Mukurtu. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://mukurtu.org/about/
- List of resources
- Students / participants will need to bring or have their own personal possessions in class. These could be from a school bag, purse, or something students were asked to bring to class.
- Pair up with another student in your class or a colleague in your department. For this activity you will be sharing some of your personal belongings with your partner. You can use the contents of your purse, bag, or some other collection of personal objects.
- Begin by exchanging your personal objects with the other person.
- Spend 5-10 minutes listing and describing the objects from your partner. Write this description and list down. Think about how you would organize the list.
- After listing and describing the objects from your partner, take a moment to think of your own personal possessions and answer the following questions
- Would you be willing to donate your possessions to a museum or archive?
- Are there any limitations that you would make about access to your personal possessions once they were in the museum?
- What kinds of emotions or memories do your possessions bring to mind? How could these emotions or memories be contextualized to become part of a museum exhibit?
- Exchange the lists and descriptions that you and your partner created. So you now have the list of your own possessions as they were cataloged by your partner, and vice versa. Read through the list and consider the following questions:
- How do the descriptions provided by your partner make you feel?
- What kind of information would a stranger learn from this list of objects?
- Were the descriptions created by your partner accurate or correct?
- Now take 10-15 minutes to discuss the following with your partner. What have you learned from this experience?
For a larger scale version of this activity, learners could be asked to apply an existing taxonomy to the objects exchanged in the activity. For example, learners could try to apply Library of Congress subject headings or the Chenhall nomenclature for museum studies. This could be extended as a homework assignment.
Participants could also be assigned to perform a similar task with the objects they find in their own home in areas such as the kitchen. Or else items that belong to another family member.
- Application of museum and archive taxonomies is part of the activity described in this study path.
- Students should analyze the outcomes of the exercise through discussion with fellow students or instructors. Independent students could solicit input from colleagues via an email discussion group or internet forum.