Monday, 29 June 2015

ARTIFACTS, RADIO, ACTION (RESEARCH)!

RESEARCH COLUMN

BY: EMILY MEIKLE

I once came across a child’s doll unexpectedly while cataloguing an archaeological collection. The experience touched me, as I held in my hands an object which had surely been the focus of countless imagined stories. The other artifacts I had been working with were all just as old, and could probably yield just as much information about the culture in question. Yet it was the surprise of finding something as familiar and joyful as a child’s toy that really helped me relate to the collection.

What images can we conjure through sound? Source.

This kind of connection continues to fascinate me and has led me to conduct thesis research about the relationship between material culture and intangible experience. My research will explore if and how radio can be used to facilitate remote access to indigenous archaeological collections for members of traditionally oral cultures, with particular attention to how aboriginal media techniques can help to inform museum interpretation. What happens when geographic and cultural distance makes indigenous collections inaccessible to their source communities, and how can this distance be overcome?

Since entering the Master of Museum Studies program, I’ve had the opportunity to confront and clarify these questions, learning that they relate closely to issues of interpretation. I like the definition of this term offered by the National Association for Interpretation, as it places emphasis on the connection forged between the audience and the object. Returning to my initial questions then, I wonder whether this connection can still be forged across great distances. While most museums are moving towards providing digital access, there is often something slightly unsatisfying about viewing a digital image in place of the real thing. So what is it about a physical encounter that is so affecting?

Not just a thing of the past? Could radio be a tool to help the public learn about cultural heritage? Source.

I suspect it has something to do with a sense of place and presence – elements which may be more easily communicated through voice and storytelling than through text and images (Tulley 2011). Like my experience with the doll, often emotional connections aren’t forged from the facts, but rather from the story surrounding them. Many museums have picked up on this idea and are creating interpretive projects using audio. And many First Nations communities have a strong tradition of using broadcast radio as a means of self-representation and community engagement (check out Indigenous Waves and Voices Radio).

We have all of the puzzle pieces and I want to find out if they will fit together. To mobilize existing professional expertise in both fields, I’ll be using a technique called action research to gather my data. This means that I’ll be working collaboratively with members of First Nations radio stations as well as museum professionals to create an interpretive radio resource – and studying the obstacles and advantages involved. By using this approach I hope to gain insight into both the practical and theoretical components of developing a culturally coherent interpretive resource.

There remains a lot to be worked out with this project – (and wrapping my head around action research won’t be the least of my challenges!), but I’m beyond excited to get to work. I’ll hopefully be reporting back soon, so keep your ears open and don’t touch that dial!

Works Cited:
Tulley, C. (2011). IText Reconfigured: The Rise of the Podcast. Journal of Business and
Technical Communications, 25(3), 256–275. doi:10.1177/1050651911400702

Editor's Note: Emily Meikle is a second year MMSt student with a BA in Anthropology and English Literature from McGill University. She is currently working as a Collection Management Intern for Sustainable Archaeology at McMaster Innovation Park. Emily found her way into her current research interests thanks to a love of stories and many childhood hours spent listening to them on the radio.

2 comments:

  1. This is so neat! The radio in my grandparents' house is always on for the morning through to lunch, and from childhood it has been tied up in my memories of their storytelling. It wasn't just background noise--it there to interact with, and rounded out whatever conversation was going on. Your research sounds (heheheh) wonderful, and I hope you write updates of your progress!

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    1. Thanks so much for the lovely comment, Anya! That's exactly the kind of radio culture I'm hoping to explore.

      P.S. I've been eagerly following your column -- clothing wasn't something I had thought about much before, but you've touched on so many fascinating ideas!

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