How Does the Third Place fit into Exposing, Understanding and Unlearning?

Upon a recent conversation with some co-workers I recently learned about a provocative new exhibit that got me thinking about how the content within our museum affects our audience perception of Native American stereotypes and what steps we are taking to foster Native pride. The exhibit I am referring to is called “Reclaiming Cultural Ownership: Challenging Indian Stereotypes and was created by the noted artist Shan Goshorn of the Eastern Band of Cherokee. This particular exhibit features juxtaposed elements of stereotypical Native American imagery captured from everyday objects and photography of Native Americans by Goshorn. I believe the crux of the exhibit is threefold; to expose mainstream America’s conceptions of Native Peoples as potentially hurtful and wrong, to understand how this is a systemic issue in America, and to “unlearn” these conceptions.

“Steven Ross,” a black-and-white photograph by Shan Goshorn,

The task of Exposing, Understanding and Unlearning behaviors placed on minority groups by mainstream American society is an incredibly complex undertaking. However, it is a task that is essential and should be championed by those groups being affected. Native American museums have an instrumental part to play in this. By creating content that is cognizant of these three issues they are doing their part to disseminate the proper information. As an example of a successful tribal museum the question is begged; is the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum willing to champion the triad of Exposing, Understanding and Unlearning. As I sit here writing this blog I can say the jury is still out. However, there is a silver lining.

In a previous blog post I highlighted a thought provoking keynote address about the Third Place by the great museum thinker Elaine Heumann Gurian. Elaine described the concept of the Third Place as a neutral community space, where people come together voluntarily and informally in ways that level social inequities and promote community engagement and social connection. I feel that the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum should embrace the Third Place concept. It will be important for our museum to become increasingly active in the social engagement arena because by doing this the triad concept of Exposing, Understanding and Unlearning will happen organically. If embraced, the Third Place will spark dialogue amongst tribal members and promote understanding between tribal members and non-tribal members alike. Over time the misconceptions and stereotypes that are still prevalent in the mainstream will become “unlearned.” As an example of a successful tribal museum, the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki is in a unique position to become a Third Place.

Commercial and promotional objects featuring Native people and imagery are part of an exhibit by Shan Goshorn

The challenge, when taking on weighty topics such as Third Place and Exposing, Understanding and Unlearning, is to change perceptions of what a museum is and what it can offer society. This is sometimes true amongst evened tenured museum people. However, I am the eternal optimist and believe that entrenched and antiquated notions of what museums are can be transformed to meet new and challenging concepts. It is imperative that we at the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki have the wherewithal to incorporate new ideas and to challenge the status quo.


Tribal Historic Preservation Office: Collections Division

The Tribal Historic Preservation Office’s Collection Section plays many roles in the preservation and care of the Seminole Tribe’s archaeological collections.  From carefully cleaning artifacts as they come in from the field, to cataloging and housing the objects through archival methods, the Collections Section works hard to uphold the highest standards of safeguarding the archaeological collections. 

Left: Katy Gregory, Right: Kate Redente working in the conservation lab.

One of the most important aspects of the Collections Section is the lab.  The lab is where most of the work takes place including the cleaning, sorting, identifying, cataloging, and accessioning of the objects.  Below is an explanation of the life of an object once it enters the lab.

Most of the objects come from the archaeological excavations done by the Tribal Archaeology Section and primarily consist of animal bone and ceramic fragments.  Once excavated, the objects are brought back from the field to the lab.  Depending on the material and type of object, it is gently cleaned in order to remove any excess dirt and sand.  Cleaning is done to prevent future damage and deterioration to an object.  However, it is important to know that not all objects are cleaned especially if the historic or cultural integrity of an object could be affected or destroyed.  Most of the time cleaning can be done by using a soft bristled toothbrush and distilled water.   

After the objects have been cleaned, they are left to dry on the drying racks.  It takes about a day or two for the objects to completely dry. 

Once the objects are dry, they are carefully sorted into like groups and cataloged.  Each group of objects receives a unique number which helps to identify the object as well as link the objects to their records.  Keeping track of each individual object is important and helps keep the collection organized and as well as allow for easy research access. 

Object Sorting

The final stage of preparing the object for storage is to place the objects into archival bags.  Each bag has an identification tag which is also printed on archival paper.  However, because some objects are too fragile to house in bags, custom boxes and supports are sometimes made to help prevent damage and deterioration.

The Collections Section is excited to be a part of the preservation of the archaeological collections.  It is great to be able to preserve these objects so that we might have a better understanding of the past!