Fan of Full Fathom Five? Be sure to check it out at its new home!

Monday, May 21, 2007

Oh No! Cutty Sark Burned

A very sad day. Heres the bad news from the BBC.

Continual updates here: I'm out of town for the day but will check in tonight.

Friday, May 18, 2007

More Thoughts on "Digital History"

This is a cool video on Digital Futures.

The following quote is taken from William J. Turkel's Digital History Hacks and is good reading for historians, caretakers and providers of digital history:

Having more changes our ideas of what history and memory are. Roy Rosenzweig's essay on scarcity and abundance should be required reading for all historians. I've already written about information costs, so I won't go into detail here, except to say that historical projects have largely been defined by what we can't find or know, and that's about to change. Having nearly frictionless access to vast amounts of source material makes it possible to undertake projects that hinge on attested, but very-low-frequency evidence. Having more of everything also means that attention becomes a scarce resource. As scholars, our reputations and careers are increasingly shaped by the logic of the gift.

Finally, more is about to become an awful lot more. Technologies like RFID and MEMS make it possible to create vast sensor networks that continuously record data in unimaginable quantities, or that can track the history of practically any object of interest. CARPE researchers study the capture, archival and retrieval of personal experiences across a lifetime. If you thought Samuel Pepys left a lot of material, you haven't seen anything yet.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Speaking of Insider Theft

This from the

NEWPORT NEWS -- The former chief archivist for The Mariners' Museum library is facing a civil suit filed by the museum, alleging that he stole - and then sold - archived items.

Lester Weber was fired Sept. 25 for "policy violations which include, in part, the theft of archival items from the museum's collections for subsequent sale on the Internet and eBay," according to a statement from Alan Diamonstein, chairman of The Mariners' Museum Board of Trustees.

Officer Harold Eley, a Newport News Police Department spokesman, confirmed that police were looking into allegations against Weber but declined to elaborate, citing the continuing investigation.

Weber and his wife, Lori Childs, are named as defendants in a civil suit filed April 16 in Newport News Circuit Court.

Diamonstein, reached late Wednesday, said the museum was seeking the return of stolen merchandise and money for merchandise sold.

"They were archival items that people had given ...," Diamonstein said. "They weren't on display yet."

Lester Weber couldn't be reached for comment. His wife, who answered a phone call late Wednesday, said she couldn't talk about the case and hung up.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Which Really Was About...

Talking to others throughout the conference many mentioned how the sessions they attended were not at all what they had been led to expect. I hadn’t run into that at all…until today.

“The Right Way to Hire, Lessens the Need to Fire”

This morning’s first session started with the fascinating statistic that “90% of museum thefts can be linked to individuals with a direct connection to the museum” and proceeded to detail ways to avoid this pitfall and navigate other aspects of hiring. As I’ll be hiring someone within the next month, thought this would be a good session to attend.

The presentation was given by Steve Lane, former police chief and museum security and now works in legal cases of insider theft. He was a bit right-wing, terrorist conspiracy minded.

He recommended conducting a criminal background investigation on all employees and volunteers and one law states that you do have a duty to conduct what the courts consider “A Reasonable Inquiry into an Applicant’s Background and Character.” As the talk progressed it became clear that what he was really talking about was not insider theft but making sure that the people you hire won’t assault your visitors or staff.

He recommended getting “Cultural Property Protection Manual” which contains a great deal of this information.

…and that was enough of that and I headed off to a session entitled:

“Podcasting: A Do-It-Yourself Case Study”

…which really was about how the Chicago History Museum used the podcast format to create an audio tour of their museum and not about podcasting as it works on the internet at all. Very exhibit/interpretation / performance based and I debated checking out another session and while it feels rude to walk out of a session, it is also rude to bill it as something it is not. Also considering that people are here to share with people who are interested in their topic I decided it was okay to quietly move on in search of relevant knowledge.

“Exhibit RFPs: Things We Learned the Hard Way”

Score! This one was on target. Very good points including that rfps are simply about “Each party explaining itself clearly” Serena Furman stressed that creators be clear about what you are going to do and what you except the contractor to do. Charts work well and can be very clear.

The current issue of the National Association of Museum Exhibitors journal is about this and I'd recommend taking a look. Along with valuable information there are some excellent sample RFPs.

One really good thing I’ll say about AAM is that overall the sessions are well done and well coordinated. Much more so then either ALA or SAA.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Collaboration and Communities

Most of the sessions I attended Tuesday shared a common theme of building communities through collaboration. The early session focused on the benefits of inter-museum collaboration, the later on internet collaboration within the museum's community.

The ECHO project is collaboration among several museums spread across the breadth of the United States and uniting native Americans of Hawaii, Alaska, and Louisiana along with cultural heritage institutions in Salem and New Bedford, Mass. Much of the project works to build and support the cultural heritage of the native Americans and is pretty impressive and moving. Both as a way to preserve and share their cultures it offers a successful model.

The other sessions featured various technology tools that fulfilled the strategies of individual museums to build communities of their users through collaborative collection participation and building. There is some impressive work going on here. The sessions only touched on the potentials. The following is a list of groups/websites I plan to explore – if you find something really interesting and useful too, please let me know. – Night Kitchen Interactive – Remixing Exhibits.– people can upload their own art, make their own exhibits, comment on and tag all the art.
Center for Open and Sustainable learning – (potentally cool conference in the fall) – a technology by which a user profile is portable among several sites

Salman Rushdie on Why Museums Matter

AAM Keynote address May 14, 2007

Rushdie gave an entertaining and insightful talk on the impact of museums on life in general and literature specifically.

During the talk I learned that the dinosaurs in the movie Jurassic Park were not of the Jurassic period but rather of the Cretaceous. The movie should have been called Cretaceous Park. Rushdie also noted that Edith Wharton could not have written ½ of her novels without museums to provide the meeting place for illicit lovers. He then shared some very interesting insights on the Da Vince Code.

While keeping the talk lively and entertaining Rushdie also made some very pointed, and more serious comments, two of which really struck home. The first turned on the phrase that “knowledge if power” to which Rushdie added that by conserving the foundations of knowledge and then putting these in the hands of the public, museums are democratizing, forces of political power.

He then concluded by noting that those who forget the past are not just condemned to repeat it, they are Condemned.

Why Museums Matter

Sorry the posts have fallen behind. Vacation last week, this week I’m at the American Association of Museums Conference with 6000 other museum professionals (some of which mistakenly think they are not maritime!)

The conference theme is “Why Museums Matter”. It’s a somewhat self serving question for those of us who work in them – aside from our innate interest – its how we earn our livings.

As to why museums matter to the rest of the world, so far, aside from Salman Rushdie (more later) I haven’t heard one outside voice on the subject and honestly I’m not sure most people think we do matter. But just because they never visit, and don’t know the impact of museums on their lived doesn’t mean it doesn’t impact and matter to them.

As Salman Rushdie said in the keynote address, museums are a culture’s collective memory. No museum = cultural amnesia. As we all know from personal experience memory is a tricky thing, subject to re-interpretation and distortion. Only be seeing again the actual artifacts of an experience can we be sure the memory is correct. There is no arguing with a photograph of denying the words in a diary entry. And that, to me, is the big reason museums matter.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

How cute is that?

Hi everyone, I'm on vacation in Sedona, AZ right now but wanted to share a little maritime story...

When I go on trips I take along a few (okay more than a few) books, of various types. For the flight I usually select something light, preferable of the "Chick Lit" genre. While reading this trips selection I had to burst out laughing (dour man sitting next to me was not amused) but you may be. In the book the heroine is reunited with her mother who had spent many years in the desert of Sedona trying to find her self. Once the mother gets back the whole family goes to family reunion at the family farmhouse in Salem, CT. For an outing they go to…”Old Mystic Seaport, a sort of Disneyland-on-the-Sea that recaptured the magic of the whaling industry.” How cute is that? And do I add that to my list of books that cite our sources?

But here comes the sun, vacation calls, and I must be off…..

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Interesting question

If a dealer offered to sell us a logbook or artifact from the slave trade, would our purchase of it be considered supportive of the slave trade? A controversy on this exact question is brewing in Greenwich over the National Maritime Museum's recent purchase of a Slaver's Log.

Gene X's "Profiting From Slavery 200 Years After Its Abolition" offers insight into both sides of the story.