Monday, 23 July 2018

FEATHERED DINOSAURS, DYNAMIC TEAMS, AND MUSEUMS TEACHING MUSEUMS

INTERNSHIP CHECK-IN

BY: KATHLEEN LEW

As summer is flying by, I present to you the FINAL installment of Internship Check-In. It was an absolute pleasure hearing from my classmates about their internship experiences. Hopefully Internship Check-In shed light on all the wonderful work MMSt students are completing in institutions across Canada and internationally. But not to worry, it’s not over yet! Musings has FOUR more interviews to share.*

This post features:

Shauna Edgar: Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto, ON

Anna England: Canadian War Museum, Ottawa, ON

Evelyn Feldman: Markham Museum, Markham,ON

Amy Intrator: Sarah and Chaim Neuberger Holocaust Education Centre, UJA Federation, North York, ON

Tell us a bit about yourself and your museum-related interests.


Shauna: For the past five years I have been a volunteer, a student, an employee or a mixture of roles at the Vertebrate Palaeobiology lab at the ROM. During my undergraduate degree I studied evolutionary biology and completed a senior year thesis at the ROM on a new species of softshell turtle from the Late Cretaceous. During this time, I’ve also been lucky enough to participate in two field seasons with the Southern Alberta Dinosaur Project. I’m fascinated by all things evolutionary and prehistoric and was thrilled to be hired as the Collections Assistant in the Vert Palaeo lab for the summer. I hope to devote my career to the preservation and management of natural history collections which are invaluable resources for education and research.

Anna: After completing my Bachelor of Arts in History and French at the University of King’s College in Halifax, I went on to complete a Master of Arts in History at Lakehead University. I always knew I wanted to work with history and, as time went on, I became increasingly drawn to the concept of working with the material culture associated with the time periods I am most interested in. Throughout my first master’s degree, I began really involving myself with museums and historical associations. As I entered the Master of Museum Studies program at the University of Toronto, it became clear to me that I would like to work primarily with tangible history, likely in the capacity of collections management or exhibition design.

Evelyn: I am entering my third year in the iSchool’s Concurrent Registration Option, pursuing both a Master of Information and a Master of Museum Studies. On the Information side, I am concentrating in Libraries, rather than Archives (the more common choice in the program). At first, even I didn’t quite understand the reason for this dual interest, but I’ve come to realize that it’s because I love the front-end side of both libraries and museums. I love the way both types of institutions engage patrons/visitors in learning, help them discover new things, offer exciting or useful programs, and overall encourage people to think about and learn about the world around them.

Amy: Hello, my name is Amy! I recently finished my first year of a collaborative degree in Museum Studies and Jewish Studies at the University of Toronto. Before entering the Museum Studies program, I earned my Honours Bachelor of Arts, also at the University of Toronto, with a major in History and a double minor in English and Jewish Studies. Over the course of my Undergraduate degree, I realized my passion for history, culture, art, and working with the public, and I realized that the Museum Studies program offered a rare opportunity to blend my love for academia with my interest in public-facing institutions. The collaborative program has allowed me to study the intersection of cultural organizations and institutions with a focus on Jewish heritage. 

Shauna sitting with the holotype specimen of Champsosaurus albertensis. Photo courtesy of Shauna Edgar. 
What is a typical day at your institution? What are your responsibilities?

Shauna: A typical day for me primarily involves rehousing our holotype collection of vertebrate fossils. This requires various judgement calls regarding each specimen’s individual storage based on its conservation needs. For most of the larger fossils I create customized foam cradles for structural support. Additionally, my job involves research into each specimen and its species to update our catalogue records. I can also be found puzzling over small fragments of bone to sort and identify, and cleaning/repairing fossils.

Anna: As a research assistant for Dr. Tim Cook, a day for me at the War Museum is never the same as the last. Dr. Cook has been phenomenal at ensuring I get a chance to experience as much as I can during my time here, so he will often have me sit in on exhibition development meetings, attend collections workshops, catalogue, or conduct primary/secondary research. Some of the tasks I have had include cataloguing postcards from a soldier during the First World War, categorizing and researching art from the Second World War, compiling contextual research about war artist Alfred Munnings, and helping plan artifact displays and visitor interactives for an upcoming Hundred Days exhibition. I thoroughly enjoy the level of variety in the work I do.

Evelyn: Some days, I am helping with our variety of programs: shadowing programs, helping to run programs, helping to prepare programs, or working at the front desk as our tour guide. When there aren’t programs going on, I’m working on my big project for the internship, which is updating the museum’s walk-in tour. The museum has 25 acres, with numerous heritage buildings from around Markham. I am researching all of these buildings (who lived there? Where are the buildings from? What are their architectural features?) and related topics (blacksmithing! beekeeping! baptists! bricklaying techniques! Just to name some “B”’s), using the files and documents in the curatorial department, to develop a new-and-improved package of information for tour guides.

Amy: You’ve been reading this column for a couple months now, so you can probably guess, there is no typical day at my institution! My position is the Museum and Programs Intern, which captures the two different roles that I alternate between here at the Neuberger Centre. Some days are more dedicated to museum-related tasks, like helping review the collection and determine best practice for cataloguing and storing various artifacts. Other days, I spend more time on the program-related tasks, mainly helping to plan the upcoming Holocaust Education Week, which will take place in the first week of November. My program-related tasks can include anything from corresponding with community partners, to looking for venues, to planning for an exhibition to be included in the program!

Evelyn working hard on Markham Museum's programming. Photo courtesy of Evelyn Feldman. 
What is something you have learned so far at your internship?

Shauna: I’ve learned a lot about collection management within a large institution like the ROM and have been able to see how our collection is stored and managed from the gallery to behind the scenes. There are so many important decisions to be made regarding how to organize and store a collection, and even more that must be made when displaying specimens in the gallery. Although much of my work is technical and collections-focused, I’ve seen how returning a specimen to its display case can be an opportunity to informally engage with visitors, answer questions, and have fun talking about feathered dinosaurs.

Anna: During my time at the War Museum, I have had the chance to meet with and learn from many amazing museum staff members in a wide range of different fields. From researchers, to curators, to collections management and exhibition designers, I have been able to sit in and explore what each of these jobs entail. This experience has allowed me to further understand the inner workings of a national museum while also giving me an opportunity to delve into potential future career paths. My internship has also taught me how exhibitions are developed, from the beginning brainstorming phase through to the compilation of research and artifacts and on to the finalized review and advertising.

Evelyn: There are the obvious things like classroom management techniques, program development, and research skills. But one of my favourite things to learn has been just how easily museum and library skills can intersect. In working on the tour, I’m really drawing a lot from the Master of Information side of my degrees, and my work in libraries. I’m researching such a variety of topics, and trying to organize the information about them in a way that will be easiest for tour guides to assimilate and reference back to.

Amy: I have learned how collaborative public programming can be! Since Holocaust Education Week is such a large program, every member of the Neuberger team is involved in the planning process. I expected that I would work closely with my supervisor, since she manages the public programs, but all of the Neuberger staff contribute to the process. My role has meant working with staff members in various departments from education to management. I know this is a reality for most institutions with a small number of staff, but I didn't realize how exciting it would be to work with a dynamic team. The programming is also built around community collaborations, so I have learned about the process of co-organizing events with various community members and institutions.

Amy Intrator in front of the Frank and Anita Ekstein Holocaust Resource Collection at the Neuberger Centre.
Photo courtesy of Amy Intrator. 
 What are you excited about accomplishing throughout your internship?

Shauna: I am very excited to be upgrading the storage of the holotype collection. It is a largescale project that has a lasting impact for research and the curation of our collection. Once complete, we will have an updated catalogue, specimens will be stored safely and securely in customized foam cradles, and fossils that were broken due to less than ideal storage or historical preparation practices will be repaired.

Anna: Looking at the work I have already done makes me feel exceptionally proud and I am thrilled to have been given this opportunity by Dr. Cook. Proceeding forward, I am very excited to continue my work on categorizing and helping to select the art work that will be featured in the future 2020 exhibition to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the end of the Second World War. I am honoured to have been given this role and am excited to see the final product along with the art work I have suggested be included. I am also looking forward to co-authoring an article with Dr. Cook on the work we have done regarding Alfred Munnings, who was a war artist during the First World War.

Evelyn: Obviously, I’m excited to see the tour actually be put into action! I think that’s the winner, hands down.

Amy: I am excited to help make Holocaust Education Week 2018 a reality! The program won't launch until November, but already I have seen the program develop so much over the two months I've been at the Neuberger. It will be hard to leave the Neuberger at the end of August, right when planning goes into overdrive, but I already feel a great sense of pride that I have been able to contribute to the early program planning phase. From exhibits, to lectures, to panels, I have been able to lend a hand with a full roster of programming!

 
Anna at the Canadian War Museum. Photo courtesy of Anna England. 
If you could create any museum (no matter how ridiculous) what kind of museum would it be? 

Shauna: I would love to see a museum all about Earth’s geologic history and geomorphology. At an early age, one of the key concepts that initially drew me to science was learning about plate tectonics and how mountains formed. It blew my mind. I began looking at the landscape where I lived completely differently. The ground beneath my feet was far from static, and had its own dramatic history. In addition to capturing the imagination, I think these foundational topics in geology help significantly in our understanding and acceptance of other scientific concepts such as evolution and climate change while also providing a foothold to ask further questions about the natural world.

Anna: It is difficult for me to think of a specific idea for a museum that I would like to create, but I often think about events in history that go unrecognised or underexplored. There are many historically significant events that have occurred but may not have been examined to their full potential in the world of museums. Museums that are dedicated to more eclectic subject matters are also of interest to me, such as the travelling Museum of Failure, so perhaps I would like to create a museum along a similar theme.

Evelyn: One of my favourite things is when museums teach about museums. A lot of museums do this in little ways; the Nova Scotia Museum of Natural History has a small display about how they transported artifacts off of Sable Island, for example. Museums can teach us about the different ways they preserve objects, or how they think about visitors, or how interpretation in museums can never be neutral, simply through what we choose to leave in and take out. I’d love to see a museum of museums: A museum that teaches us about the world around us—science, sociology, current events—through the lens of museums’ operations themselves.

Amy: I am fascinated by the concept of a museum focused on Jewish heritage. A few years ago, a plan for the Jewish Museum of Canada was proposed, but the plan has been put on hold indefinitely. I would love to be a part of the process of making that museum a reality, as I think museums that focus on Jewish heritage have so much potential as spaces for education and cross-cultural dialogue.

Want more of Internship Check-In? Check out previous interviews here!

*These interviews have been edited for length and clarity.

No comments:

Post a Comment