Sunday, April 29, 2012

So, I missed a few weeks

There were a few weeks when, to be quite honest, I was not doing anything very exciting. Most of the time that I wasn't at the museum I was spending my internship writing my ideas or transcribing the interviews; transcribing took up more time than I had ever imagined. Through the process I was able to learn more about the docent's experience and compile their suggestions as well as work on my typing skills.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

What a great semester

This evening I had the pleasure of attending the Volunteer Recognition Ceremony and Reception at the Field Museum and, most excitingly, my name was included on the program. Yes, it was among many others but I still felt very proud to be a part of something like that. The ceremony recognized the hard work of the volunteers at the museum over the year and had special recognitions for those who have committed 10, 15, 20, 25, 30, and 35 years to the museum, as well as being hosted by John McCarter who gave a speech he called "15 years at the Field Museum in 15 minutes....or so" which was inspiring and surprisingly funny. The presentation outlined how much the museum has accomplished in the last decade and a half and how widespread the museum is. The Field has research on all 7 continents, more conservation projects than any other museum, has lent out exhibits all over the world and adds roughly 500 new species to it's catalogs every day. The reception served as the perfect ending to the semester, I feel I have learned to much about museum education, the docents themselves and how to effectively convey information to the general public. I was only able to take a few pictures during the evening as I had to hurry home to my looming final papers but I was so glad to be able to take pictures with my favorite docent (Dennis Kinzig, who was recognized for having volunteered more than 400 hours of service over the year), with Dr. Johnson, a picture of John McCarter giving his speech and, of course, the dessert table in front of Sue the dinosaur.

Sunday, April 8, 2012


The past few weeks have been filled with a lot of writing, I am working on putting my experience with the docent tours into a meaningful piece of writing. The title for my work has been giving me a bit of trouble but hopefully Dr. Johnson will have some suggestions for me. The writing has helped me process my time with the docents and realize that my views on museum education and museums in general have changed after getting a more intimate look at how they work. The docents themselves are a collection of diverse individuals who make public education their passion in retirement (generally), I feel that those who seek out the position of museum docent are highly motivated people who were committed to their various careers and in retirement they turn that commitment to their tours. While they are all extremely different and have different career backgrounds they all have common elements that make them successful docents. Prior to the project I had never taken a tour with a docent, I felt that I could gain all the information an exhibit had to offer on my own. Once I started taking tours I realized how much information the docents add on their own, mostly due to their own research and interest, and how valuable they are to museums. I will continue writing about and analyzing the docent experience and expect to end up with a well thought out piece to turn in to Dr. Johnson.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Week 7

After a much needed spring break I have returned to work, Professor Johnson asked me to write about my experiences going on the tours with different docents and answering in detail some questions he had about the docents and their tours. I have started writing my observations and will continue to work on the piece over the next few weeks.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Week 6

This week I reviewed the report Prof. Johnson submitted to the museum concerning a survey we gave to the docents about their role at the museum and the profile it created about them as a group. Some of the things we found were that the docents were incredibly loyal to the museum and dedicated to their exhibits but occasionally wished they had a bigger say in the happenings at the museum and a better way to communicate with the education department. They view themselves as creative and feel they add a great deal to the exhibits. The information gathered through this survey will hopefully be used to bridge the gap between the docents and the education department as well as serve as a starting point for Prof. Johnson's book.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Week 5

This week was all about writing my impressions of the training and how the method of training shapes the way the docents interact with the public as well as how the exhibits educate. It seems to me that a good museum exhibit should be able to stand alone and be interesting and educational for the visitors but what I have seen while working with the docents is how incredibly vital they are to the educational experience. I must admit before this project I was one of those people who never went on tours and wanted to learn from the exhibit on my own but now I see how much I was missing out on by not utilizing the docents. Some docents like to facilitate, which is when they simply stand in the exhibit and make themselves available for questions, the best ones that I have observed find unobtrusive ways to share their knowledge, they more or less strike up a casual conversation that doesn't make the visitor feel as if they are listening to a rehearsed speech or that the docent is trying to reach some sort of "quota." The training I was able to observe helped me see how these docents learned to interact with visitors in this manner, I think the style of training the Field conducts is vital to the docent experience and I look forward to doing more writing about this and hopefully observing more trainings.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

What a Day!

Today has been incredibly interesting and fun, I went with Prof. Johnson to the Field Museum to participate in the docent training for the new exhibit which is all about mummies. The mummies in the exhibit have all previously been in storage due to their fragile condition and are only available to the public until April and I got to be one of the first people to walk through the exhibit as well as listen to a walk through by Bob Martin, a curator for Anthropology at the museum. Dr. Martin was very enthusiastic and obviously extremely knowledgeable about the exhibit. These mummies are on display now because the Field had a chance to put them all through a portable CT over the summer that was loaned to them and the results are fascinating! There are a couple of highlights in the exhibit such as a 14 yr old boy (mummy 111517) that shows evidence of head binding, a female mummy nicknamed the "gilded lady" whose teeth were so worn due to diet and sand corrosion that they appeared to be from someone today about 70 years old when she was most likely around 40 when she died, and a collection of Peruvian mummies which was something I have never seen before. The exhibit itself is a nice blend of tradition and modernity which was something Dr. Johnson and I had suggested for the original Egypt exhibit this summer. There were large airy cases spaced nicely around the room which gave the exhibit a relaxed feeling as well as a respectful tone, the room was relatively dark but the pieces were well lit and the label copy was at the top of the cases so even if there were a crowd of people in front you could read it. Some of the coolest features, in my opinion, were the CT images on the walls next to their respective mummies, a video screen that showed various CT scans in a way that was not distracting in the least and 3D models of the skulls of each mummy that were 'printed' with a 3D printer. After the walk through there were 3 lectures, one by J.P. Brown, a curator who explained the CT scans and how the mummies are aged. There are a few things they look at to determine age, one are the epiphysis' to see if they have hardened, which they do by mid twenties, distortion and spreading of the spinal column, the condition of load bearing joints such as hips and the wear on teeth. He was especially excited by the discovery that the gilded lady had curly hair. Next was a presentation on Egyptian burials by Emily Teeter from the Oriental Institute of Chicago who had a lot to say about the life of the Egyptian people and had some interesting insights on canopic jars such as the mother of Khufu in the 4th dynasty was the first mummy we have that shows evidence of using canopic jars. The final presentation was by Nicola Sharratt, an Anthropologist at the Field Museum, about the Peruvian mummies which was fascinating. Some of my favorite things from her presentation were that Royal Inca mummies were brought out during festivals, traveled to visit other dead and were consulted for advice, and that Capacocha had a sacrifice of children on mountain tops when they believed the gods demanded it. These children were especially picked out as the most beautiful and perfect each city had to offer, paraded to the capital where the kind chose the most pure of them all to be sacrificed around his city and the rest were paraded back to be sacrificed on their own mountains, it was a little bit like an ancient Hunger Games except nobody survived. As you can probably tell this day was so jam packed with information it is impossible to get it all out in one blog but I have included some pictures to fill out the day. The first is a dismembered head, the museum has a large collection of mummies but a great deal of them are only partial mummies, this one actually shocked me so I had to include it. The second picture is of a sign at the beginning of the exhibit that has "smartphone scan things" that will link you directly to youtube videos which I thought was a really cool way to get the "techie" generation involved. The 3rd picture is one of the 3D printed skulls which were absolutely amazing.