About the show

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.

Episodes

  • 82. Statues and Museums

    June 15th, 2020  |  11 mins 1 sec
    statues

    In the wake of the racist murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Black Lives Matter protesters in Bristol tore down a statue of Edward Colston, a prominent 17th Century slave trader. Protesters rolled the statue through the street and pushed it into Bristol Harbor — the same harbor where Colston’s Royal African Company ships that forcibly carried 80,000 people from Africa to the Americas used to dock.

    In this episode, we examine the relationship of statues and museums. Why do so many call for statues of people like Colston to end up in a museum instead of at the bottom of a harbor? Looking at examples from Dr. Lyra Montero’s Washington's Next! project in the United States, American Hall of Honor museums for college football teams, and statues of Lenin and Stalin in Eastern Europe, we discuss the town-square-to-museum pipeline for statues.

  • 81. Living History in a Pandemic at Old Sturbridge Village

    June 1st, 2020  |  12 mins 30 secs

    Old Sturbridge Village is a living history museum in Massachusetts depicting life in rural New England during the early 19th century. But the early 19th century isn’t specific enough for the site’s historical interpreters—to immerse visitors in the world they’re recreating, knowing exactly what year it “is” matters.

    Tom Kelleher, Historian and Curator of Mechanical Arts at Old Sturbridge Village was tasked with choosing that “default” date. He chose 1838 in part because the social and political change of that time period would resonate with today’s visitors. But there’s another aspect of the year that will resonate with visitors today once the museum reopens after closing due to Covid-19: how people in New England responded to the Cholera Pandemic of the 1830s.

    In this episode, Kelleher describes the difference between first and third person interpretation, and how visitors might react to seeing 19th century costumed interpreters with modern facemasks.

  • 80. British Museum Curator Sushma Jansari Shares Stories and Experiments of Decolonising Museums

    May 4th, 2020  |  15 mins 25 secs
    british museum

    The British Museum’s South Asia Collection is full of Indian objects. Dr. Sushma Jansari, Tabor Foundation Curator of South Asia at the British Museum, does not want visitors to overlook the violence of how these objects were brought to the UK to be held in a museum.

    So for the 2017 renovation of the South Asia Collection, Jansari, who is the first curator of Indian descent of this collection, made sure to create unexpected moments in the gallery. She highlighted artifacts bequeathed to the museum by South Asian collectors and presented photographs of a modern Jain Temple in Leicester, where she’s from.

    In this episode, Jansari talks about giving visitors the tools to think about the colonial interest in items in the collection, why she started her excellent podcast, The Wonder House, and how not to let the decolonization movement’s momentum evaporate.

  • 79. The Future of Hands-On Museum Exhibits with Paul Orselli

    April 20th, 2020  |  13 mins 44 secs
    covid-19

    The modern museum invites you to touch. Or it would, if it wasn’t closed due to the Covid-19 outbreak. The screens inside the Fossil Hall at the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC say “touch to begin” to an empty room. The normally cacophonous hands-on exhibits at the Exploratorium in San Francisco sit eerily silent.

    Museum exhibit developer Paul Orselli says he’ll be reluctant to use hands-on exhibits once museums open up again. But he hopes that future hands-on exhibits are more meaningful because museums will work harder to justify them.

    In this episode, Orselli predicts what hands-on exhibits could become, the possibility that the crisis will encourage museums to adhere to universal design principles instead of defaulting to touchscreens, and how Covid-19 might finally put an end to hands-on mini grocery store exhibits in children's museums.

  • 78. How Museums Present Public Health with Raven Forest Fruscalzo

    March 30th, 2020  |  13 mins 5 secs
    covid-19

    Museums across the globe are now closed because of Covid-19. Some of those shuttered galleries presented the science behind outbreaks like the one we’re living through.

    As Raven Forrest Fruscalzo, Content Developer at the Field Museum in Chicago and host of the Tiny Vampires Podcast points out, the fact that museums are closed is an important statement: they trust the scientific information.

    In this episode, Forrest Fruscalzo discusses the people that make up public health, how museums can be a trusted source of public health information, and examples of museum galleries that incorporate public health.

  • 77. Trump Asks, “Who's Next?” Lyra Monteiro Answers, Washington’s Next!

    March 16th, 2020  |  14 mins 37 secs
    statues

    The statue of George Washington in New York City's Union Square commemorates him on a particular day—November 25th, 1783—the date when the defeated British Army left Manhattan after the American Revolutionary War. The statue celebrates the idea that Washington brought freedom to the country, but professor of history at Rutgers University-Newark Dr. Lyra D. Monteiro researched how many people of African descent that Washington was enslaving on that same date: 271.

    Representing these people formed the heart of Washington's Next!, a participatory commemorative experience focused around that statue. In this episode, Monteiro describes how a tweet from President Trump was the inspiration for the name, how passersby reacted to the project, and the subtle ways that public monuments have power.

  • 76. 400 Years Post-Mayflower, the Provincetown Museum Rethinks Its Historical Branding

    March 2nd, 2020  |  12 mins 39 secs

    Sometimes, a historical event is all about the branding. And the brand of Plymouth Rock in Plymouth, Massachusetts as the spot where the Mayflower Pilgrims first disembarked 400 years ago this year is pretty strong.

    The branding is strong enough to override the fact that the Mayflower actually first landed on the other side of Cape Cod, in what is now Provincetown. The Pilgrim Monument and Provincetown Museum commemorates that site. And even within a museum that’s trying to correct an inaccuracy, it has its own to grapple with: the museum used to portray the meetings between the members of the Wampanoag Nation and the Mayflower pilgrims with dehumanizing murals.

    In this episode, Courtney Hurst, board president of the Pilgrim Monument and Provincetown Museum, describes how the museum is working to correct these inaccuracies by working closely with the Wampanoag Nation. And as the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower arrival approaches, the museum is in the middle of yet another rebrand. Just as the word pilgrim was reframed by Mayflower passenger William Bradford as a way to tie his journey to stories in the Christian Bible, the museum is reframing the word pilgrim to include recent Provincetown history.

  • 75. Museduino: Using Open Source Hardware to Power Museum Exhibits

    February 17th, 2020  |  10 mins 7 secs

    Proprietary technology that runs museum interactives—everything from buttons to proximity sensors—tends to be expensive to purchase and maintain.

    But Rianne Trujillo, lead developer of the Cultural Technology Development Lab at New Mexico Highlands University (NMHU), realized that one way museums can avoid expensive, proprietary solutions to their technology needs is by choosing open source alternatives. She is part of the team behind Museduino, an open-source system for exhibits and installations.

    On this episode, Rianne Trujillo and fellow NMHU instructor of Software Systems Design Jonathan Lee describe the huge potential to applying the open source model to museum hardware.

  • 74. 'Houston, We Have A Restoration' with Sandra Tetley

    January 13th, 2020  |  14 mins 13 secs
    apollo mission control center

    Every time an Apollo astronaut said the word Houston, they were referring not just to a city, but a specific room in that city: Mission Control. In that room on July 20, 1969, NASA engineers answered radio calls from the surface of the moon. Sitting in front of rows of green consoles, cigarettes in hand, they guided humans safely back to earth, channeling the efforts of the thousands and thousands of people who worked on the program through one room.

    But until recently, that room was kind of a mess. After hosting Gemini, Apollo, Skylab, and Shuttle missions through 1992, the room hosted retirement parties, movie screenings, and the crumbs that came with them.

    Spurred by the deadline of the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11 in 2019, the room was carefully restored with a new visitor experience. The restoration project focused on accurately portraying how the area looked at key moments during that mission, right down to the ashtrays and soda cans. In this episode, Sandra Tetley, Historic Preservation Officer at the Johnson Space Center, describes the process of restoring “one of the most significant places on earth.”

  • 73. Sanchita Balachandran Shifts the Framework for Conservation with Untold Stories

    December 2nd, 2019  |  14 mins 59 secs
    sanchita balachandran

    The field of conservation was created to fight change: to prevent objects from becoming dusty, broken, or rusted. But fighting to keep cultural objects preserved creates a certain mindset — a mindset where it’s too easy to imagine objects and cultures in a state of stasis.

    Sanchita Balachandran, Associate Director of the Johns Hopkins Archaeological Museum, founded Untold Stories to change that mindset in the conservation profession. Through events at the annual meetings of the American Institute for Conservation, Untold Stories expands cultural heritage beyond preserving the objects we might find in a museum.

    In this episode, Balachandran talks about Untold Story’s 2019 event: Indigenous Futures and Collaborative Conservation, avoiding the savior mentality, and how the profession has changed since she was in school.

  • 72. ‘Speechless: Different by Design’ Reframes Accessibility and Communication in a Museum Context

    November 18th, 2019  |  14 mins 42 secs

    Museums tend to be verbal spaces: there’s usually a lot of words. Galleries open with walls of text, visitors are presented with rules of do and don'ts, and audio guides lead headphone-ed users from one piece to the next, paragraph by paragraph.

    But Speechless: Different by Design, a new exhibit at the Dallas Art Museum and the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, guides visitors as far away as possible from words with six custom art installations.

    In this episode, curator Sarah Schleuning and graphic designer Laurie Haycock Makela discuss how their personal experiences lead them to Speechless, and describe the process and considerations of putting it all together.

  • 71. Assessing Curatorial Work for Social Justice With Elena Gonzales

    October 28th, 2019  |  15 mins 6 secs

    Museums are seen as trustworthy, but what if that trust is misplaced? Chicago-based independent curator Elena Gonzales provides a solid jumping off point for thinking critically about museums in her new book, Exhibitions for Social Justice.

    The book is a whirlwind tour of different museums, examining how they approach social justice. It’s also a guide map for anyone interested in a way forward.

    In this episode, Gonzales takes us on a tour of some of the main themes of the book, examining the strategies of museum institutions from the Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia to the National Museum of Mexican Art in Chicago.