Hello Everyone! This summer I am working with Dream America and Arizona State University as an intern collecting oral histories of DREAMers, students affected by the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act. We are currently actively looking for DREAM students to interview. If you, or someone you know is a DREAM act student, particularly in SoCal or Arizona, please contact us, or pass this on.

Your story is our nation’s history.

The Dream America project is an effort to collect and exhibit the experiences of those involved in the undocumented immigrant youth movement. We would like to create a digital archive documenting the movement through the words, art, and actions of immigrant students, legislators, and allies. Through this project we hope to shed light on the movement and help set up a foundation for later documentation by the movement itself.

Although we are looking to create a digital archive documenting our interviews, interviewees are in no way obligated to make your interview public. If interviewees wish to remain anonymous, they are more than welcome to use pseudonyms or first-names only. Our first interviews will be conducted through audio recording only.

A coalition made up of ASU Public History, UCLA Center for Labor Research and Education, and the UTEP Institute of Oral History will lead the project, bringing together a team of nationally-recognized oral historians, public humanists, and social activists to focus initially on collecting and archiving the undocumented student movement within the US-Mexico borderlands, from Texas and New Mexico through Arizona and California.

 

We are currently looking for undocumented students involved in the DREAMer movement in Southern California or in Arizona.

Contact: Dream America Contact

Tombstones vs. Text Panels: Why don’t museums tell everything?

This is a perfectly fair problem/complaint. You’re completely right - sometimes museuns are scant with the information they place on their text panels. You’re talking about extended text panels, the kinds of labels that explain something in depth about the piece. What you’re running into that you don’t care for is casually called a tombstone, the bare bones information: title, date, artist, materials used, etc. 

There are a few reaons for these. One: there are a few theories about how audience and object interact with each other (for folks who are fond of constructionist theory), but the more common reasons are: The piece has information being conveyed elsewhere, and/or visitors only spend an average of 7 seconds looking at the labels to begin with. 

We have seven seconds.

So what that tells us is that the majority of people aren’t going to read beyond title, artist, date anyways. After having written the labels for an exhibition (extended labels with information, but still short and faily concise, on avg. about 60 words), I can tell you there’s a lot of work going into the labels that do have information. Draft after draft and pages of ideas, in my case an interview with the artist, and a fair amount of background research — all with the knowledge that many people wouldn’t bother to read what I wrote anyways. I took this as a challenge to not be boring, but you can’t be all things for all people. 

The goal is certainly to try, however. And in the case of permanent collections in museums which do not have more than tombstone labels, it’s often because there’s a lot of opportuity for extended programming with the pieces. They’re part of the museum, they might rarely rotate, and they’ve usually been there for long enough that they already have extensive research on the pieces. Or they might someday have that research. Mr. Durston complained there was no information, but refused to pick up an audio guide, which is generally where that excessive information goes first. Nowadays, museums are utilizing audio guides, tours/docents, mobile apps for smart phones, QR codes, and pamphlets/fliers that have the extended information that you can pick up and sometimes take with you if you want to know even more. 

I’m in complete agreement with you! I love extended labels, I want to read more about things, to be beguiled by the books which have even more information, to calmly contemplate what is being presented to me. But again, we are the odd ones out. Most people have about 7 seconds of attention per piece, if that, and then move on. We have a fair amount of opportunities to approach in different ways with all the same information — there’s an app for that now. We can create youtube videos and interactive computers, audio tours, in-person tours, etc. Some people are simply not visual/textual learners. To attract these people, we need alternatives. 

Part of my problem with my museum studies course tackling this article is that 1.) Mr. Durston is complaining about things that are problems and all their solutions, and 2.) It’s clearly written to be divisive and riling, but to do little else. I’m sure he’s completely aware of the fact that he wouldn’t read every extended label, and I’m just as sure he realizes that his being interested in extensive amounts of information makes him a bit of an outlier, not the norm as my class suspects. In other words, no, I don’t think he’s ignorant, or someone who hates culture. I think he’s writing an article to make money and be controversial in his language while he does so. 

He’s got a point — objects should relate to people, the relation of objects to objects and objects to civilizations can be illustrated to great effect, extended labels can be wonderful (or unread), context and connectivity can be extremely helpful, adults want alternatives to formal lecturing as activities, etc. This is the same point you have, that you want context and the story behind things. I think that’s a huge goal in any given museum. But the solution isn’t approached by simply writing more extended labels, it has to be much bigger than that, and yes, it even extends to the gift shop. 

I think we’re fundamentally in agreement, I just think the explanations of “Why isn’t there more information?” is lacking and a fault of the museos for not explaining it.

Tombstones vs. Text Panels: Why don’t museums tell everything?

This is a perfectly fair problem/complaint. You’re completely right - sometimes museuns are scant with the information they place on their text panels. You’re talking about extended text panels, the kinds of labels that explain something in depth about the piece. What you’re running into that you don’t care for is casually called a tombstone, the bare bones information: title, date, artist, materials used, etc.

There are a few reaons for these. One: there are a few theories about how audience and object interact with each other (for folks who are fond of constructionist theory), but the more common reasons are: The piece has information being conveyed elsewhere, and/or visitors only spend an average of 7 seconds looking at the labels to begin with.

We have seven seconds.

So what that tells us is that the majority of people aren’t going to read beyond title, artist, date anyways. After having written the labels for an exhibition (extended labels with information, but still short and faily concise, on avg. about 60 words), I can tell you there’s a lot of work going into the labels that do have information. Draft after draft and pages of ideas, in my case an interview with the artist, and a fair amount of background research — all with the knowledge that many people wouldn’t bother to read what I wrote anyways. I took this as a challenge to not be boring, but you can’t be all things for all people.

The goal is certainly to try, however. And in the case of permanent collections in museums which do not have more than tombstone labels, it’s often because there’s a lot of opportuity for extended programming with the pieces. They’re part of the museum, they might rarely rotate, and they’ve usually been there for long enough that they already have extensive research on the pieces. Or they might someday have that research. Mr. Durston complained there was no information, but refused to pick up an audio guide, which is generally where that excessive information goes first. Nowadays, museums are utilizing audio guides, tours/docents, mobile apps for smart phones, QR codes, and pamphlets/fliers that have the extended information that you can pick up and sometimes take with you if you want to know even more.

I’m in complete agreement with you! I love extended labels, I want to read more about things, to be beguiled by the books which have even more information, to calmly contemplate what is being presented to me. But again, we are the odd ones out. Most people have about 7 seconds of attention per piece, if that, and then move on. We have a fair amount of opportunities to approach in different ways with all the same information — there’s an app for that now. We can create youtube videos and interactive computers, audio tours, in-person tours, etc. Some people are simply not visual/textual learners. To attract these people, we need alternatives.

Part of my problem with my museum studies course tackling this article is that 1.) Mr. Durston is complaining about things that are problems and all their solutions, and 2.) It’s clearly written to be divisive and riling, but to do little else. I’m sure he’s completely aware of the fact that he wouldn’t read every extended label, and I’m just as sure he realizes that his being interested in extensive amounts of information makes him a bit of an outlier, not the norm as my class suspects. In other words, no, I don’t think he’s ignorant, or someone who hates culture. I think he’s writing an article to make money and be controversial in his language while he does so.

He’s got a point — objects should relate to people, the relation of objects to objects and objects to civilizations can be illustrated to great effect, extended labels can be wonderful (or unread), context and connectivity can be extremely helpful, adults want alternatives to formal lecturing as activities, etc. This is the same point you have, that you want context and the story behind things. I think that’s a huge goal in any given museum. But the solution isn’t approached by simply writing more extended labels, it has to be much bigger than that, and yes, it even extends to the gift shop.

I think we’re fundamentally in agreement, I just think the explanations of “Why isn’t there more information?” is lacking and a fault of the museos for not explaining it.

One of the exquisite benefits of focusing on Art History (Or specifically, Art in History) is being able to read splendid books that have a high volume of pictures. There’s a reason, after all, that children are so taken with books with pictures. They’re engaging, informative, and interesting, and they after often used to illustrate the texts we read. 

So when I saw this particular book at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco, I couldn’t pass it up. Christensen seems to do everything I enjoy in a scholar — he takes something that seems broad, and communicates to us the connecting threads that tie the world back together. There’s wonderful pictures, contemporary references and comparisons, artwork that is absolutely breathtaking. Running Asianhistory on tumblr gives me a great incentive to pick up these kinds of works. Although it’s a text not limited to Asia, there’s a masterful criss-crossing of Global events, trades, and histories here that includes it. This isn’t a book limited to simply Europe and Asia either — there’s review of the Americas, of Africa, a section touching upon Matoaka, now known in history as “Pocahontas”. In fact, there’s a bit of jumping around 1616, but so far it’s so much fun that I don’t mind. 

For those looking for something with a more academic bent, the research is there, but Christensen’s prose isn’t impenetrable by any means. It’s the sort of book that makes me want to have coffee with the author. 

Unfortunately, I’m not finished with it yet (I have a myriad of class readings and about 30 books checked out from the library total), but I’ve been working my way through it. 

For anyone interested, the book’s website is here

Peonies, Morning Glories, Cherries, and Chinese Cotton. Jiang Tingxi, 1669-1732. Ink and Color on Gold Paper Fan. Phoenix Art Museum.

I posted the official Museum photograph of this beautiful painted fan on my Asian History blog, but here’s some close ups of just how stunning this fan really is. It honestly gleamed so beautifully under the light. The hands are my professor, Dr. Claudia Brown at ASU. We were lucky enough to have a painting viewing for our Chinese Painting class, courtesy of the Papp Collection. 

Indiegogo | Asianhistory | US History Minus White Guys

asianhistory:

In all honesty: if vaguely historical elements get you excited to learn the actual history that your favorite video game/show/novel/comic book/etc draws from, then I am glad for it. 
It’s not about what “gets you into” history, it’s about what you learn once you’re there. I think the danger of the modern (mostly US in my experience) school system is that we belittle people for choosing the “wrong” ways to find their passions, interests, and subjects for learning. You’d be amazed to find out what you can approach or be introduced to in less traditional means. 
Children who hate “reading books” but like comic books? Should be exposed to comic books with quality narratives, comics written after classics, etc, not just told to “suck it up and read”. Folks who watch Avatar the Last Airbender, and want to know more about the writing they see the characters reading would do well to learn about Chinese calligraphy in history, or to look up asian art, or to go further and view the way buddhist ideals are referenced. People who are passionate about Bollywood films might find they’re passionate about Indian culture as a whole, might want to know the historical precedent for ideas or attitudes they’re exposed to. 
Put it another way (with a western focus): approximately how many people went to see Les Miz and then thought, “Well, I might want to know a little bit about French History to really grasp what that was based on.”? 
So one of my favorite films is Red Cliff, and many of my Chinese friends told me it was historically inaccurate and was thus displeasing. Well, true, the accuracy isn’t fantastic, but on the whole, I enjoyed the films anyways, and then went and learned about the actual battle at Red Cliff.  You can separate fact and fiction, and you can recognize games/shows/movies/etc aren’t historically accurate but still want to know what the truth behind all that was.
Academic snobbery has an unfortunate habit of stifling intellectual curiosity if it comes from “low culture” first. But we’re all exposed to popular culture all the time, in many ways. If you choose to use your pop culture interests as a springboard for your intellectual curiosity because you know those aren’t historically accurate - that is, you seek out real sources, academics, books, scholarly works, etc - then I see nothing wrong with it at all. 
In fact, by doing so, you’ve chosen to make yourself a critical, intelligent, analytical, and curious human being, which I would argue is the basis of all learning. 

asianhistory:

In all honesty: if vaguely historical elements get you excited to learn the actual history that your favorite video game/show/novel/comic book/etc draws from, then I am glad for it. 

It’s not about what “gets you into” history, it’s about what you learn once you’re there. I think the danger of the modern (mostly US in my experience) school system is that we belittle people for choosing the “wrong” ways to find their passions, interests, and subjects for learning. You’d be amazed to find out what you can approach or be introduced to in less traditional means. 

Children who hate “reading books” but like comic books? Should be exposed to comic books with quality narratives, comics written after classics, etc, not just told to “suck it up and read”. Folks who watch Avatar the Last Airbender, and want to know more about the writing they see the characters reading would do well to learn about Chinese calligraphy in history, or to look up asian art, or to go further and view the way buddhist ideals are referenced. People who are passionate about Bollywood films might find they’re passionate about Indian culture as a whole, might want to know the historical precedent for ideas or attitudes they’re exposed to. 

Put it another way (with a western focus): approximately how many people went to see Les Miz and then thought, “Well, I might want to know a little bit about French History to really grasp what that was based on.”? 

So one of my favorite films is Red Cliff, and many of my Chinese friends told me it was historically inaccurate and was thus displeasing. Well, true, the accuracy isn’t fantastic, but on the whole, I enjoyed the films anyways, and then went and learned about the actual battle at Red Cliff.  You can separate fact and fiction, and you can recognize games/shows/movies/etc aren’t historically accurate but still want to know what the truth behind all that was.

Academic snobbery has an unfortunate habit of stifling intellectual curiosity if it comes from “low culture” first. But we’re all exposed to popular culture all the time, in many ways. If you choose to use your pop culture interests as a springboard for your intellectual curiosity because you know those aren’t historically accurate - that is, you seek out real sources, academics, books, scholarly works, etc - then I see nothing wrong with it at all. 

In fact, by doing so, you’ve chosen to make yourself a critical, intelligent, analytical, and curious human being, which I would argue is the basis of all learning.