So Long, Farewell…

As of last Wednesday, my internship with the Field Museum is over. I’m grateful for the opportunities and experiences I had while working there. I really got to see some neighborhoods of Chicago in a new way. I’ve been to the South Chicago and East Side, for instance, and have traveled as far as Porter, Indiana. I wasn’t aware of how involved the Field Museum is involved in conservation within the Chicagoland and Calumet region. My internship has educated me more to the connections that can exist between large museums, historic preservation and environmental conservation.

So what’s next? Classes start for me again for my second and last year of my Master’s degree (yay!). This semester I’ll also be entering another internship, more details on that soon. I also will be a co-mentor to an undergraduate class who is working on an exhibit that will be featured at Loyola’s library (formally the Karlchek Information Commons). Expect to see more posts from me next month and possible a blog name change. This isn’t really goodbye, its auf wierdersehen.

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The (Un)Glamorous Life: Behind the Scenes at the Field Museum

I watched the Indiana Jones films a number of times as a kid (teen and young adult) and honestly I can say they were partially responsible for my love affair with history. Watching the movies also led me to try out deciphering hieroglyphics (at the ripe age of 10 or 11) and to attempt grabbing a hat from under a closing garage door — but I digress. Thank you George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, and Harrison Ford. For those who don’t know, the character Indiana Jones is an archaeologist and professor who also does fieldwork, like any archaeologist or anthropologist, but he doesn’t uncover any old artifacts. No.  Jones escapes the lecture halls and dusty libraries to recover the…. oh I don’t know — THE HOLY GRAIL! Meanwhile  he destroys the Nazis and recovers artifacts while proclaiming “This belongs in a museum!” Could that statement have been my first indoctrination lesson in public history/museum studies? Perhaps.

Presented here are some photos from the glamorous office space museum professionals (curators, anthropologists, exhibit designers, etc.) occupy at the Field Museum. Come with me into world that smells like a hundred year old books and a teeny bit like your 8th grade biology class.

A display case with information about Malvina Hoffman, famous sculptress who recorded, in bronze sculpture, people from around the world. Many of the sculptures  in the  museum and were created in 1930.

A display case with information about Malvina Hoffman, famous sculptress who recorded, in bronze sculpture, people from around the world. Many of the sculptures in the museum and were created in 1930.

Close up picture of sculpture of a woman from India next to the real woman who modeled for the bust. Comparing pictures of the real people with their busts raises questions about  anthropological and cultural attitudes of the time.

Close up picture of sculpture of a woman from India next to the real woman who modeled for the bust. Comparing pictures of the real people with their busts raises questions about anthropological and cultural attitudes of the time.

Map to get around the massive 3rd floor which I used to get lost in.

Map to get around the massive 3rd floor which I used to get lost in.

Doorway to a small section of the anthropology department.

Doorway to a small section of the anthropology department.

This is as close as it gets to anything I imagine a 1930s museum office looked like. Indiana Jones could have worked here, right (without the fax of course)?

This is as close as it gets to anything I imagine a 1930s museum office looked like. Indiana Jones could have worked here, right (without the fax of course)?

The Ancient Americas lab also known as my workspace.  On the wall a map of an area in Peru and on the table a map of the Calumet Region.

The Ancient Americas lab also known as my workspace. On the wall a map of an area in Peru and on the table a map of the Calumet Region.

Poster reads: " ¡Alto al Hauqeo! Salvemos Nuestro Patrimonio Cultural" Translation: "Stop Huaqueo (from Quecha for looting of sacred places)!: Save Our Cultural Heritage"

Poster reads: ” ¡Alto al Hauqeo! Salvemos Nuestro Patrimonio Cultural”
Translation:
“Stop Huaqueo (from Quecha for looting of sacred places)!: Save Our Cultural Heritage”

Stairway to the mysterious fourth floor, Exhibitions. Look to the top right for some curation of dinosaurs.

Stairway to the mysterious fourth floor, Exhibitions. Look to the top right for some curation of dinosaurs.

A zoological exhibit near my workspace.

A zoological exhibit near my workspace.

A scientific drawing of a very angry badger by one the women's bathrooms.

A scientific drawing of a very angry badger by one the women’s bathrooms.

What I call the "bird library" which is much like what it sounds.; numerous archives of preserved dead birds. Mmm the smell of formaldehyde in the morning.

What I call the “bird library” which is much like what it sounds.; numerous archives of preserved dead birds. Mmm the smell of formaldehyde in the morning.

A wall of anthropology curators from the beginning of the Field Museum to the current one. The is one woman in there.

A wall of anthropology curators from the beginning of the Field Museum to the current one. The is one woman in there.

What is known as "wall of wood" which is a hallway lined with samples of wood from around the world with labels.

What is known as “wall of wood” which is a hallway lined with samples of wood from around the world with labels.

Part of the in-house library.

Part of the in-house library.

Beautiful woodcarving from Asia in the library entrance way.

Beautiful woodcarving from Asia in the library entrance way.

And this is Bushman, the guy I get to see everyday when I get on or of the elevator.

And this is Bushman, the guy I get to see everyday when I get on or of the elevator.

Heritage v. History

Material culture, landscape, memory, Section 106, shared authority, meta narrative, and Michael Frisch; all of these words have a special meaning for public historians (and words I also hear entirely too much between the months of September and May). Heritage is also one of those words. Despite the hefty amount that heritage has been thrown about in my grad program and at my internship, it can get a bit difficult to explain to others (especially those not in the field) what heritage means.  One of my supervisors at the Field Museum, who is an anthropologist, tells my fellow interns and I to capture different communities’ “performance of heritage”. I finally have a clearer understanding;  I have a firm idea about what heritage is and is not.

What Heritage Is

Heritage can simplistically be explained as something that is inherited or, in an even more basic definition, tradition. In the context of public history, anthropology or sociology, heritage (in less delicate terms) can be stuff people do because someone else they were related to used to do it or places that our of value because an ancestor once valued it.  Heritage is traditional practices, places, natural landscapes and even what we eat; we have cultural, intangible (language, folklore, etc.), natural, and food heritage. Its all about keeping an inheritance alive and passing it from one generation to the next as a means of identity, meaning-making, and community. Once you realize that heritage is dependent on being passed along and maintained by descendents then it is not hard to understand that heritage and conservation are best pals. Sacred meeting places, a unique language, and a recipe passed from your great-grandmother, are all performances of the past.

What Heritage Isn’t/History Steps In

History while different from heritage still seeks to understand it and preserve it, especially in the case of public history. The most distinct difference between the two is that history is more about evidence from the past and its analysis. While history has given many a historian “the warm fussies” (a technical term), it seems heritage is more about feeling and less about facts. Historians are going to tell you about the significant events of the American Civil War: data, why the Confederacy left the Union, what Abraham Lincoln’s presidency was like and so on. While Southern heritage, for example, passes on to a Southerner memories of Vicksburg, songs about the former glory of Dixie or maybe a inherited recipe from a slave past. History can get complex but heritage can get downright messy; some historians are not so fond of heritage for the issues and intentional silences it can create. History, if presented in a reasonably balanced manner, can be accessible to a diverse audience while certain expressions of heritage many times are specific to a particular group.

In summary, heritage is about inherited practiced culture,place and community. while history is a method of recounting and understanding the past.  In my opinion, history and heritage should have a relationship to one another since one can benefit the other and provide different modes of viewing the same past. Since heritage is what is purposely conserved it helps historians and social scientists understand what groups choose to remember, memorialize, and promote while simultaneously telling us what would rather be forgotten.