Intern Weekly Response: 2019 Reflections

Posted on August 8th, 2019 by

Every week we’re asking our summer interns to share some thoughts and responses to various experiences and readings. This week we asked them to reflect on their internships as a whole. To read more posts from JMM interns, past and present, click here.

~from Intern Hannah

The past ten weeks have been an amazing and very wild ride. I have learned so much from this internship. From working the front desk and gift shop, to school groups, adult tours, and creating educational materials and programs, the experience I’ve had was amazing and made me more confident that I want a career in museums. I loved being able to show history to a wide range of people, from all different backgrounds and ages. I also loved being able to leave my mark on the Jewish Museum, whether through the educational materials I worked on, or the programming projects I helped with.

Doing Exit Interviews with Museum Guests seeing Fashion Statement.

I created my first lesson plan and educational tools, and learned what responsibilities are typical in museum education. It was really interesting to be able to sit in on staff meetings and to get an idea to how it feels to actually work in a museum and create new programs and educational materials to go with the exhibits. I was able to watch ideas go from a brainstorm to a real objective through team meetings and conversation. It was great to see things I worked on come to life before my eyes, like the Jonestown festival and the Summers Teachers Institute. Programming was something I had experience with, being a board member on my colleges Hillel for multiple years, and I had a great time continuing to work on those skills this summer. I didn’t get to bring any of my ideas to life but I loved collaborating with museum staff and I hope my suggestions come to fruition with time.

It feels especially important to be wrapping up this internship with the summer teachers institute, I am struck with the power that museums have to convey a message to a large population of people and get them thinking. I loved being able to participate in this seminar and see the Holocaust Museum as well as hear Esther’s Story at AVAM. I got to meet many educators and I learned a lot about women in the Holocaust.

This was my first time at the Holocaust Museum in DC. I learned a great amount that trip and during the rest of the Summer Teacher’s Institute.

Looking towards the future, I will be able to keep the resources I was given for my future in education. I will definitely take the tools I’ve learned this summer unto other museum jobs in the future. I learned so much about Jewish history in Baltimore, something I had not known much about previously, but is so interesting to me. Jewish history is one of my passions so I loved being able to dive deeper into that history. I will never forget this internship and all that I learned.

~from Intern Elana

I cannot believe that ten weeks have already come and gone. In writing this reflection, I have realized all of that I’ve learned about museums, collections management, and myself over the course of these course of my time at the JMM.

Helping out at the 2019 Jonestown Festival.

From the day to day to workshops to museum trips, the JMM internship allowed me to learn about museums in a variety of ways. I learned more and more about how a museum operates each and every day I spent at the JMM. Every time I spoke to one of the staff members, I learned more about what they have to think about in a day, the projects and responsibilities that they take on, and what it really means to work in a close-knit museum environment. The workshops enabled me to learn about diverse topics in museums that I had never been able to explore before directly led by the amazing staff at the JMM whom are each experts in their various fields.

Next, I would like to touch on what I learned in my specific internship in collections. Going into this internship, I had a goal: to work with objects I had never been able to work with before and over the course of the summer, I slowly achieved this goal. I worked with documents, photographs, rare books, clothing, and even magic tricks! I learned how to handle, store, and care for each of these types of objects properly and now I have much more confidence in myself in working with various types of objects. The staff at the JMM, especially Joanna and Lorie, taught me about many aspects of what go into collections management and what people who work in collections have to deal with on a day to day basis. Keeping track of the Museum’s collections and making sure that they are cared for in a proper and organized fashion is no easy task, but with the training here at the JMM with Joanna and Lorie, I have a much better understanding of careful and organized collections management.

These past ten weeks have enabled me to learn so much about museums in so many different ways from so many different people. I could not be more thankful for the opportunities that the JMM has provided me and the wealth of knowledge that I have gained this summer.

~from Intern Megan

As the internship comes to a close, It seems fit to reflect on the 10 weeks I experienced at JMM. Firstly, in regard to what I have discovered this summer, I would say that I found out a lot about what I want to do in my future career. I realized that I really do love to write and would love to have writing be a core responsibility in any role that I get. I particularly enjoyed writing a couple appeal letters and doing research on what makes a good letter. I also discovered what working in a small museum (and museums in general) looks like. I’ve learned that while everyone has different roles and titles, all of the employees come together nonetheless for many different projects and definitely have overlapping work. This makes for a more team feel which is also something I discovered I would appreciate in my future work environment.

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

Some of my favorite memories from the internship include going on field trips with the other interns to different museums. I really enjoyed being able to look at other museums through a newfound lens; I was prompted to analyze each exhibit space in comparison to the ones at JMM and this really got me thinking. I also really enjoyed being a part of the 3-day STI program which taught teachers how to teach the Holocaust.

I got to hear so many stories and learn a great deal of information I did not know already.

At JMM I’ve learned how to search for grants, what it takes to match grants, what working in a museum looks like, how to write appeal letters, what event planning and execution looks like and more. It is safe to say that my experience at JMM has been a great one!

~from Intern Ariella

Coming into my JMM internship, I didn’t know exactly what to expect. Because I didn’t fully understand what I’d be doing, I had some preconceived notions in my mind. Two and a half months later, here’s my thoughts on the internship, from then to now.

Myth: working in Education/Public Programs means you’ll be limited to working in these departments.

Reality: I was really hoping this wouldn’t be true. As I’ve explained before, I really wanted to work in a museum this summer because I wanted to be exposed to the whole system. I wanted to know how everything works.

One of the many intern workshops held in the JMM boardroom.

JMM is on the smaller side, and that worked to my benefit. The majority of what I did consisted of Education/Public Programs assignments. But not everything. I learned how to work the front desk, manage Esther’s Place, conduct evaluation surveys, design an improved visitor experience, and lead synagogue tours for adults. Extremely helpful were the staff-led workshops that we had nearly once a week, all designed to teach us about the other museum departments. Workshops are a great idea, almost a crash course in museum careers.

The Windsor Hills neighborhood of Baltimore.

I also got to do a ton of work within the Public Programs and Education departments. For the former, I helped with the organization of the Jonestown Festival. I also helped plan speakers, workshops, and family days that are Scrap Yard themed. For Education, I learned how to run tours with school and camp groups, design new educational programming, and write an educator’s guide to an exhibit. I’ve also spent weeks researching the Windsor Hills neighborhood on PastPerfect, JMM’s collections management software. You can hear all about it on my upcoming podcast.

Working with school groups!

Myth: kids don’t want to go to museums. This is based off my own memory of museum trips as a kid. I always loved going, but most of my friends didn’t share that enthusiasm.

Reality: some of them don’t, but a lot of them really, really do. Some of the kids who visited had never heard of a synagogue before, didn’t know anything about the Holocaust, or thought immigration was strictly illegal. It’s amazing to watch them learn the facts — and they usually have tons of questions. They really do want to learn something new.

But yes, there will always be kids who couldn’t care less about the visit. We try to make sure they have a good time anyway. In the Voices exhibit, that usually means that they get very excited by the interactives, such as the Singer sewing machine and the outhouse (it isn’t an interactive, but the kids choose to make it one).

Funzo, the pig-nosed turtle.

Myth: it’s really cool to see how museums work from behind the scenes.

Reality: yep, this is super cool. Obviously we learned about JMM’s operation. In addition, we took trips to multiple institutions, and got to see how several of them run. My favorite was the visit to the Walters Art Museum to meet with their curator of manuscripts and rare books. Another highlight was last week’s trip to the National Aquarium’s Animal Care and Rescue Center, since we spent time with their adorable misbehaved fish and turtles.

Overall, it’s been a great experience at JMM. I’ve learned a lot, done a lot, and really enjoyed my time here. Thanks for reading these posts, and be sure to visit the museum!

~from Intern Mallory. Mallory has another week left in her internship, so this week she shares a bit more detail about one of her projects!

Part of my internship this summer included processing collections. And in regards to the Har Sinai collection, reprocessing. While this took several weeks to go through, yet the other collections intern, Elana, and I were able to fully and successfully reprocess the entire collection. When we started, the Har Sinai collection was spread across 18 boxes, seemingly in no order, with little to no information for what was actually within each box and folder. In the end, we re-organized everything into 11 boxes and 399 folders. This process started with each of us going through every individual or existing folder and looking through it, making note of what is there and smaller notes about what we should move where and how we should start grouping items. From there, we entered everything into a spreadsheet, being able to color code and move around the folders as we saw fit. The final steps were placing folders within their new groupings into the boxes. But, at the end of nearly three weeks, we had the entire collection reprocessed, organized, and properly entered into the system with their new numbers.

Working with JMM collections.

Processing is a necessary part of working with collections, as it allows the user to be able to find things quickly, save space, and aid in others locating items. I had processed a collection once before JMM, but the details were never explained in full to me. Having the opportunity to process another collection, working with the documents and creating a new, functioning finding aid really helped reinforce the skill for me. While it may seem tedious to some, I enjoy processing collections; going from a disjointed series of items to a logically organized collection.


Posted in jewish museum of maryland

Intern Weekly Response: Education in Museums

Posted on August 1st, 2019 by

Every week we’re asking our summer interns to share some thoughts and responses to various experiences and readings. This week we asked them to read two articles about education in museums and assess how JMM approaches these issues – and any suggestions they have for the future! To read more posts from JMM interns, past and present, click here.

~from Intern Hannah 

Education is one of the most important tenants of a museum. So, it has been really amazing to observe and aid the education department in working to bring the objects and buildings at the Jewish Museum to life for children of all ages. I’ve seen groups with children as young as five and as old as sixteen, sometimes in the same group. The JMM provides a wide array of educational programs to schools, focusing on our different exhibits and through multiple lenses. The JMM gets a lot of support from local schools, including our partner schools, but there are some teachers who find it hard to get their classes into museums.

Me, playing an educational game I created to supplement the Synagogue Speaks exhibit, with campers from Camp Harlam.

There are a few factors that might make a trip to a museum hard for teachers to swing.  First, time is hard to find in the school day. Especially because of the focus on standardized testing that many teachers are forced to have, it can be hard to justify the trip. However, museum trips can fulfill many curriculum requirements and help greatly supplement the information being already taught in class. This ensures that students fully understand the material and are not just memorizing for tests. This was one of the main complaints about museums trips in the articles I read, that they don’t often have explicit connections to their curriculum, or if they do, teachers are unaware of them. This is one place where the JMM education team shines. When teachers set up a tour with us, we send them what the JMM calls an Educator’s Guide. This includes things like learning objectives for the tour and connections to state English Language Arts and Social Studies standards for different grades. This is intended to make sure the teacher understands not only what will be covered in the tour, but what this tour will give to their classroom. We provide background for whatever exhibit or tour they want to see, and give optional classroom activities for them to do both before and after their visit. For example, when schools come to tour the Lloyd Street Synagogue and our permanent exhibition: Voices of Lombard Street, there are two paths that the tour can take: intro to Judaism or the Immigrant Experience. For each of these, we encourage teacher to prep their students with certain readings or videos to get them to a good understanding before visiting the exhibit and furthering their understanding. We also encourage that the class be visited by one of our living history performers to supplement a future trip to the museum, like Ida Rehr. This can also help ease some administrative hesitation, who might think of museums as non-essential to the classroom experience. With direct tie ins to curriculum and current class topics, the JMM receives a fighting chance for classroom time and money. It is hard to find money in the budget for trips to museums, including busses and often lunch. There are some schools in the area that have walked from their school to our museum as part of their trip, to get an understanding of the neighborhood of Jonestown.

There is also the opportunity for museums to stimulate learning in a way that is not possible in a classroom. I think that the JMM does a great job encouraging learning in multiple ways for multiple learners. Everyone understands things differently and needs different tools. In a traditional classroom setting, some might fall behind. However, when you supplement classroom learning with the opportunity to change children’s routine and bring them somewhere new, where they get to look at the things they are learning about, and participate in a variety of activities associated with that object or idea, their world opens up. We do a number of different activities with the groups that visit here that encourage learning and engagement using a variety of potentially different learning styles. Not only do our programs work for different ways of learning, but it also encourages different ways of thinking. For example, we have groups do a scavenger hunt in the Voices of Lombard street exhibit to not only ensure that they visit each station, but that they can interact with each of the stations. The interactive nature of Voices can do a lot to spark learning, especially when students have already learned about the immigrant experience. For example, many students come in with previous understanding of how immigrants came to America in the late 19th and early 20th century, but actually being able to see the things they brought over or put on period-appropriate clothes from our dress up chest helps lead to a wider understanding. Children also learn about the triangle shirtwaist factory fire, for example, and then can come to Voices and learn about Baltimore immigrants who also worked in sweatshops. They can even sit at our replica sewing machine and press the pedal, making the “needle” go up and down.

Students From Springdale Prep playing with the model sewing machine in our permanent exhibit, Voices of Lombard Street.

I think that the education team is doing a great job engaging local schools and teachers. Next week we are running the Summer Teacher’s Institute with over fifty teachers and administrators from schools all across Maryland. Hopefully this program helps foster connections with teachers so that they bring their classes to the museum. In the article Reasserting Arts Education in K-12 Curriculum, they give a few ideas for museum education programs. Some of these suggestions include video supplements for museum exhibits, and “Secret Life of the Museum” events where kids have the opportunity to see artifacts that might not normally be displayed and get to learn the story that goes along with the object. I think this could be an interesting idea for the JMM to possibly do, and maybe bring in children in a context that is not a school-sponsored field trip while encouraging an interest in history.

~from Intern Ariella

I remember visiting museums with school when I was a kid. Occasionally we’d go on a field trip, and a museum would fit into our curriculum. It didn’t happen often, though. Usually, the school would choose to take us somewhere for pure fun, maybe with an assignment (Six Flags is significantly different when you’re trying to measure velocity on rollercoasters), or they’d skip the field trip entirely.

According to Hamilton College’s Wellin Museum, this mindset is pretty common. Amber Geary, Wellin’s Museum Educator, led a two-year study from 2015-2017. While the majority of teachers want to bring their classes to museums, 41% of the 140 teachers polled hadn’t done so. The reasons why spanned pages: busing issues, not enough advance notice, inability to skip other classes. Lack of a connection to curriculum was a huge setback. It’s harder to make accommodations for a trip than it is to not go at all.

URJ Camp Harlam writing a story as part of the Fashion Statement educational program.

Some of these problems are ones that JMM can’t independently solve. But while working in the Education department over the last two months, I’ve noticed that some are being addressed. Most key is the issue of museums not having experiences that are relevant to school curriculums. While I was crafting a teacher’s guide to the upcoming Jews in Space exhibit, one of my main tasks was to write an in-depth explanation of how the exhibit falls into multiple curriculum requirements. While finding homeschool forums to market an upcoming Homeschool Day, I also had to make sure that the content of the program was relevant to the group’s priorities.

Some other positives are explored in the second report we read this week. In “What’s in a Museum Trip?” Jacqueline Du explores the ways that museum educators can impart lessons to kids in a brief period of time. The key to making a lasting impact is to create a “thematic learning experience.” Kids should be hear ideas, be told the facts, and be guided through subsequent discussions or activities on how to explore those ideas and facts on their own.

The game board for “Are We There Yet?” designed by JMM educators to bring a different type of experience to the classroom.

JMM already follows this strategy. Over the last two months, I’ve assisted with multiple school and camp groups. JMM educators never give a simple tour. The fashion exhibits “Stitching History” and “Fashion Statement” involve watching a video, putting together a puzzle, and writing a short story. “Voices of Lombard Street,” our immigration exhibit, sends the kids on an interactive scavenger hunt. “The Synagogue Speaks,” our introduction to Lloyd Street Synagogue, includes objects that the kids can touch, and a brand-new matching game designed by Hannah.  All of our sessions end with question-and-answer, so the kids can just process and discover more. No matter which group visits, one thing is typically the same: kids are excited! They want to be away from school! And most are open to learning. It just needs to be framed so that they have fun doing it.

JMM also strives to make lives easier for teachers. Key issues that Wellin reported included a lack of knowledge about museum programs and an inability to visit the museum. JMM’s website needs improvement, but once it’s updated, hopefully it will be clearer about upcoming opportunities. We now have data on all of the public schools in the city, so the Museum can start conversations with them about visiting. For those who can’t, the Museum offers educational resources online for free. Some teachers even want extra programs, specifically tailored towards teaching. JMM offers the Summer and Winter Teachers Institute workshops, which are designed for this purpose.

There’s a lot more work to be done across the board when it comes to museum education. JMM’s already on the right track.

~from Intern Elana

I really enjoyed the readings this week about museum education. In my studies and work, education is a part of museums that I have not delved into as much as I would have liked to. Thus, the two articles we read this week gave me much more perspective.

As a child, visiting museums was always my favorite part of the school year. I can still remember some of my museum trips as clear as day. I remember exploring the interactives at a science center and visiting historic houses alike. I always saw these trips as fun trips as opposed to learning-based ones and, to be honest, I think that’s the way the school viewed them too. For most of the trips, I cannot recall how they fit into our curriculum, though I am sure they did at least in part. However, I remember these trips being very rare, only one every few years. The articles I read this week and my time in museums helped me realize how valuable museums can be in educating in a different way than the typical classroom setting and how museum exhibitions can apply to the subjects that students are learning in their classrooms.

Through these articles, I have also come to realize how important it is for teachers and schools that museums work with them to create an effective partnership.

With the strict standards teacher have to deal with, it is imperative that museum are able to help them in any way that they can. Museums can make the museum education fit the curriculum, provide introduction and reflective materials, and work with the teachers on what the program will achieve. One thing from the articles that I was particularly useful was creating a menu of sorts of educational programs that coincide with specific curriculum requirements so that teachers can select a program that perfectly fits their needs. Because I remember how valuable my museum trips were to my education, I can see how important it is for students to come into museums in with their schools.

~from Intern Mallory

School trips often being students to a museum, spending the day to look at artefacts and engage students in a new way outside of the classroom. It can be challenging to properly plan out a trip into the museum, several factors such as timing, cost, and curriculum can pose a challenge to schedule around.

A school group looking at an exhibit in the Met. Source: The Met.

Research has shown that the three previously mentioned obstacles (time, cost and curriculum – referred to as defensibility) are the main opposing factors which can prevent teachers from scheduling trips to museums (Reasserting Arts Education in K-12 Curriculum: A Qualitative Case Study and Pilot Programs, 2018, Amber Geary). While museums are a great way to engage students, providing a variety of new possibilities to cover lessons and allowing the usage of different learning types, being about to successfully plan a trip is challenging. Timing can heavily impact what is happening in the classroom and cost can impact any event. But defensibility, being able to connect the trip to the curriculum, is the main issue as it not only has to work for the teacher, but also the administration approving the trip.

Personally, while there can be several obstacles to jump over, I think using museums as an educational tool in class is amazing. As a child it was something I always looked forward to, and something I still do even in college. Trips to museums were always memorable for me, as it wasn’t just sitting in the classroom and I usually remembered a lot of the trip and what I learned. My favorite thing was how these trips could allow students to apply knowledge to physical items, which can strengthen the connection of knowledge and make it more memorable.

A school group learning about art at the Norman Rockwell Museum. Source: The Normal Rockwell Museum.

Within my past weeks at JMM, I’ve only seen a few school trips come through. As I’m working with collections, I haven’t seen all of them. But I did sit in on a few of the trips, specifically one towards the beginning of the internship. JMM has paired with two schools and had created video narratives for each student, each being able to tell their own story. JMM had been working with one of the schools in prior years and I believe that there are plans to continue with the program, creating a strong partnership between he two locations. Personally, I think that this program was very well done, it could be connected to the museum itself, to the student’s lives personally, to their curriculum and it helped then build both technological skills and interpersonal skills.

I know JMM also works with a variety of schools, welcoming all in. As someone how isn’t incredibly familiar with the workings of the education department but is still partially participating, I think that this is a very good thing as it tries to work around the issues of cost. Naturally curriculum will always be the hardest thing to work with, but open communication with teachers (emailing about events and new exhibits) can help bridge that gap.

~from Intern Megan

After interning at JMM for 9 weeks, I have a much better idea of what museum education and programming look like. I also see the importance of museum education as a link between students and their communities. Museums also offer an educational break from the traditional classroom learning style. I know that when I was little I was always way more focused on field trips and more willing to learn because it was both fun and educational.

The articles, “What’s in a museum trip?” and “Reasserting Arts Education in K-12 Curriculum” both offer insightful tips and information on learning at museums.

The first article addresses questions about what should be included in a class’s visit. One piece of advice that stood out to me was, “when educators set goals and draft markers of student achievement in a museum setting, we can aim for students to engage in critical thinking with a specific topic and essential questions”. This makes a lot of sense to me because one must know what the end goal is to effectively structure everything that comes before. When I was drafting appeal letters earlier in my internship I learned a lot about the education programming at the JMM; JMM works with each school to make goals for student learning based on what their unique curriculums are. This allows students to easily connect what they learn at the museum to their every day learning, which in turn, allows for more retention of information.

The second article was all about a study done about why schools partner with museums. This article also gave good insight on how museums can be better suited for class visits. One of the things that stood out to me was how it stated that “By using terminology that teachers and administrators recognize, museums can increase the ease of use and defensibility of their programming, thus increasing museum-school collaborations”. Again, I feel that JMM does a great job of this for similar reasoning as before; by working directly with teachers, the education team at JMM applies the subjects the students are learning at school directly to the structure and programming for each class.

I personally believe that visiting museums is a great way to learn; it gets you up and walking and allows you to explore a new place. The works at museums can be aesthetically pleasing and the tours interactive and enjoyable. It is so important for teachers and educators to engage their audience and getting up and moving while still learning is a perfect way to do so.


Posted in jewish museum of maryland

Intern Weekly Response: Exhibit Review

Posted on July 25th, 2019 by

Every week we’re asking our summer interns to share some thoughts and responses to various experiences and readings. This week we asked them to review an exhibit that they had recently visited. To read more posts from JMM interns, past and present, click here. 

~From Intern Elana 

For my exhibition review, I have decided to focus on an exhibit that I was able to see at the Smithsonian on our Intern D.C. Day. After going on the gallery tour of the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI), a fellow guest asked our tour guide which exhibit he would recommend that we visit next and he suggested “Americans.” Thus, I went in with no idea what the exhibit would be about. When I entered the hall, I was greeted with a large room with its black walls covered in bright images of Native Americans in American pop culture, from the Land o’ Lakes butter logo to an Indian motorcycle. This black and white color scheme made the brightly colored images and objects pop and gave the whole exhibition a modern and visually striking appearance. This room made it instantly clear what this exhibition would focus on: the myths and stories of Native Americans as a part of American popular culture: how they came to be and why certain stories are particularly popular. Stepping into the first room made me realize how multi-media focused this exhibition was. The back wall projected video clips, the side walls were covered in images and objects in cases mixed together and two long tables in the center of the room were outfitted with touchscreens that allowed visitors to learn about the images and objects on the surrounding walls. Although I am typically a person who is more drawn to objects, I appreciated the use of multi-media in this exhibit. It allows the visitor to see how narratives permeate so many aspects of how we receive information, from movies and television to books to products you might buy at the grocery store.

Photo Credit:

Four rooms jutted off from this center room. Three of the rooms were filled with what one might call an exhibit within an exhibit and the last had a video installation. Each of these rooms told a different popular American story that centered on Native Americans: Pocahontas, the battle of Little Bighorn, the Trail of Tears and Thanksgiving. They attempted to get at the truth of each of these stories and understand why these specific stories became so ingrained in the American narrative. Each room did so effectively by using the multimedia aspect of the exhibition. It was only through interactives, videos, objects, artwork, and text together that the exhibit was able to tell each story and explain how it became so ingrained in the American conscious. Personally, I wish that more than just a video had been included for the Thanksgiving story because the multimedia aspect of the other rooms led to a much greater depth to the stories and a better understanding of how stores such as these become so popular and ubiquitous. However, each of the other rooms did a great job of telling the stories they each focused on. For example, the Little Bighorn room, called “The Indians Win,” used artwork of the battle made by both sides, newspapers, posters, and Native objects to show “Why have Americans been obsessed with this one loss rather than dozens of victories?” and how the image of the “Plains Indian warriors came to represent all Indians.”


Photo Credit:

This exhibit made me consider how narratives, not limited to stories about Native people, become ubiquitous in society today. It made me rethink these particular stories, stories that I had heard for years and just accepted, and inspired me to take another look at other stories that are ingrained in the American consciousness. It made me think about where I absorb information from, even from something as simple as the logo on a stick of butter. The message behind this exhibition is incredibly resonant in this world where we are constantly consuming from hundreds of sources.  As you might be able to tell, I really enjoyed this exhibit and found it to be highly successful in conveying its story. If you are able to, I highly recommend seeing it in person at the NMAI or experience it online at the link below.

Exhibition website: 

~From Intern Ariella 

Usually, people go to museums to check out things they’ve never seen before. They don’t go to look at things that they already know.

Americans challenges that idea by flipping it on its head.

Americans is an exhibition at the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI). Open since January 2018, the exhibit centers on showing visitors images that they’re already familiar with.  Most Americans will recognize an Indian Halloween costume, have learned the tune for “Ten Little Indians,” and notice the classic wooden statues outside smoke shops. But the amount of Indian images, terminology, and stories that have infiltrated American culture stretch much farther. Americans seeks to point this out to its audience, and does an extremely successful job.

The Americans exhibit at NMAI features displays of Indian images in American culture, as well as several deep-dive rooms.

Visitors enter the long, narrow gallery, which is a wing on the NMAI’s third floor. On both sides, from floor to ceiling, are objects. Each has the image or loans its name to Indians.

Directly to the left, by the entrance, is a bright yellow 1948 Indian Chief Motorcycle. Straight ahead, a screen plays the clips from various TV shows and movies featuring Indian characters. Several couches enable visitors to sit and just look around- which they would likely do, if they could easily read the panels by the objects lining the walls.

NMAI’s choices in what to include are interesting to consider. According to its Media Fact Sheet, Americans features nearly 300 objects along the walls. While looking at the items, my main question was: why these? Why did South Park and A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving make the cut, but not the Twilight Saga’s depiction of a werewolf Indian tribe, or Tom and Jerry episodes featuring Indian war cries?

Perhaps the choices were made to highlight instances where the Indian influence was less obvious to casual visitors. For example, there is no sign in the exhibit of the Washington Redskins, a team whose name and mascot are so discussed that both Wikipedia and the Huffington Post have categories devoted exclusively to the topic. But the Seattle Seahawks, whose mascot is likewise inspired by Indians, is included. By making this choice, NMAI is able to inform visitors of a new angle to a topic they thought they knew about. Everyone has heard of the Redskins controversy. The Seahawks label instead asks, “Are all Native American–themed mascots bad? Maybe not,” before explaining that the logo was inspired by art from the North Pacific Coast tribes.

The best aspect of the exhibit was just off of the main gallery. Four small, deep-dive exhibits are included as small wings off the main room. Each focuses on a different, commonly known tale about Indians: Thanksgiving, the Battle of Little Bighorn, the Trail of Tears, and Pocahontas. The rooms walk visitors through the inaccuracies in the widely known stories.

I was least impressed with the Thanksgiving room, which features a five-minute video explaining the holiday’s confused origins. There was nothing wrong with the informative clip, but I didn’t learn anything new. On the other hand, the Pocahontas and Trail of Tears rooms were especially well-done. The Pocahontas room used several different mediums to carry its message across: a public interview video, panels along the walls, and lights pointing out characters on the Capitol’s Frieze of American History.

One of the exhibit highlights is the deep examination of the characters in this section of Frieze of American History, located in the Pocahontas section.

One of the cleverest, and most telling, aspects of the exhibit comes before visitors even walk in. Just the title reveals much of what the gallery’s aims are. It is called Americans – not “American Indians” or “Indians in America.” It is a short, simple, word that the majority of visitors will identify with themselves. In titling the exhibit Americans, NMAI reminds visitors of the way that Indians have been present in American culture from the beginning. Because they are pointed out, they wind up belonging with all Americans.

~From Intern Mallory 

For this week’s blog post we were asked to evaluate an exhibition. While there are many museums in the Baltimore-D.C. area, the most recent museum I’ve been to was in Missouri. And while I would love to discuss an exhibition in the area for others to visit, I wouldn’t be able to give a proper evaluation as it has been a while since I visited a museum on my own. So, for this week, I’ll be talking about the Titanic Museum in Branson, MO.

The museum, as the name suggests, discusses the Titanic. At the start of the museum is highlights how the Titanic was made, then discusses the voyage through the iceberg. It has a section dedicated to the passengers, and the museum ended with the discovery of the Titanic in recent years, with the trek down to the wreckage.

The exterior of the Titanic Museum.

Personally, I really enjoyed the entire museum. I thought that it flowed nicely, starting at the building of the Titanic and continuing through the more recent re-discovery of her. The exhibits mainly housed quotes from passengers and crew, images from onboard the Titanic, and some artefacts (which included items from passengers, some dishware, boarding passes).

Interior of the museum, interactives within the exhibit

One thing I found to be very interesting was that upon entering the building, everyone was given a boarding pass with a name. This is who you “were” for the time in the exhibits. In the last room there was a wall dedicated to the passengers and crew onboard the Titanic at the time of her sinking, with both survivors and victims listed. This created a very interesting way of connecting the visitors to the people who lived through this event, gaining interest as they walk though and discover more.

One this I found curious was that while the tour was mainly self-guided, with captions to images and text blocks scattered about, there was also an audio tour. While the audio portion wasn’t mandatory, everyone was given a way to access it, and there were numbers throughout the exhibition which would provide more information about certain subjects.

Interior of the museum. A member of the staff dress as a crew member on the Titanic, standing in front of the replication of the Titanic’s grand staircase within the museum.

All and all, I really enjoyed my trip. While it was a bit dark at times, I learned so much more than I previously knew. The audio tour portion was, at times, a bit too much – as it could hold up a certain area. But I still think that the audio tour added much more to the entire experience. The few interactives (panels that you could stand on which were angles to show how steep the deck got during the sinking and water as cold as it was that night – 28 degrees) were cleverly places and fun to interact with. There were also small question panels around where you could test your knowledge on the topic discussed in the room which was an interesting way to not only help visitors remember information but also to increase visitor retention time.

But the mystery and narrative being the person who you “are” while walking through really grabbed not just my attention, but also the group that I was with. We all were actively looking through the rooms, trying to look for clues for the fates of our passengers.

The exhibition was very well done, immersive yet not suffocating so. It provided a new outlook into the lives of the passengers, their experiences, their lives after. Personally, I learned a lot and found the exhibit to be very engaging. The way the individual cases were set up were also well done, for the lack of physical items from the ship that survived nothing seemed empty or overcrowded. I also think that the lifestyle and culture of the era was very well represented. It also handled the topic of the tragedy very well, being respectful while also providing all the information they have.

~From Intern Hannah 

This is a review of Body Image: Arts of the Indian Subcontinent, featured in the Freer Gallery, one half of the Smithsonian’s National Museums of Asian Art. I visited this exhibit on the JMM Intern’s trip to DC and gave a short summary of my experience in that blog post. However, this was one my favorite exhibits that I visited that day, so I think it deserves an in-depth look.

The exhibit has a strong focus on the human body, specifically, the human body that was accepted to be the most beautiful during the Mughal Empire. Most of the objects in this exhibit were from the period of time when the Mughal Emperors ruled over much what we would now call the Indian Subcontinent. Their reign, which ran from 1526-1858 covered what is now India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh. This empire was one of the most powerful and prosperous in the world. A lot of art was produced in this period, as appearance meant a lot in this society. The representations of bodies and fashion in this exhibit can tell us a lot about common thoughts and beliefs on the nature of being, gender roles, social ideas, and hierarchies of power at the time. Dress, posture, and conduct were all ways for individuals to show their power, authority, and loyalty. Mughal courtiers often wore beautifully and carefully crafted luxury objects on their bodies, in order to display their sophistication. This Mughal strive for refinement was very tied to the regional king’s authority and inspired both Muslim and Hindu civilians to adopt imperial fashions.

One of my favorite parts of the exhibit was not an object, but the curator’s choice to include magnifying glasses for visitors to use. I definitely utilized this tool to be able to see the intricate patterns and details featured in some of the art in this exhibit.

Figure 1: The inclusion of magnifying glasses was a great touch and helped me to better interact with the objects!

As for objects in the exhibit, I loved this displa6y centered on the use of flowers in Mughal Empire art. The display features a dagger with a beautiful floral motif on the handle, which might have belonged to a Mughal courtier. The flowers are made of rubies, which were valued higher than diamonds, so this would have belonged to someone with means. The middle object is a scent box with painted red and gold lilies, and probably held betel, an aromatic breath-freshener used during intimate moments. The label reads, “in ancient India, sophisticated lovers were always well perfumed.” The third object was a sprinkler, which probably held rose water to be sprayed on guests. The label says it was probably made in Avadh, a north Indian kingdom that emerged towards the end of the Mughal empire, as it was in decline. Also in this room were displays with beautiful jewelry and other adornments. In this first room also lived an imperial scroll that gave beautiful images, and an idea of how these beauty standards were understood and passed on through kingdoms and generations.

Figure 2: Dagger, scent box, and rosewater sprayer

Figure 3: A scroll featured in the exhibit, showing some depictions of the ‘ideal’ body and fashion

The second room of the exhibit turns away from royalty and towards gods. There is a long list on one of the walls listing the Thirty-Two Body Marks (called Lakshanas) of a Buddha. These markers run from long legs and white teeth, to curls that come out of the head clockwise, and retracted genitals. There were many statues of Buddha in different representations around the room. It was really interesting to see so many interpretations of the same ideal.

I really enjoyed this exhibit and the beautiful objects in it. I have a soft spot for decorative daggers and swords, so I got very excited by the ones featured in the exhibit. I think it is comforting to look at body image standards from another culture and time. It’s great reminder that all beauty standards are socially constructed and are also constantly changing. It is not a short falling to not fit an ideal that is not realistic. It felt really human to be confronted with fashion styles associated with the time and think about what has changed and what has not, in terms of elitism in fashion and the way that mainstream fashion is still greatly influenced by those with power and money. Although ideas about the body, fashion, and gender are very different now than they were in 17th century India, I felt like I could understand the motivation and societal pressure to want to look or present a certain way. Some things never change.

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