A Word from the Education Department

A couple of weeks ago a group of staff, known as the Interpretive Planning Committee took a fieldtrip to visit one of the two Seminole Tribe of Florida’s reservation primary schools. The irony of a museum taking a fieldtrip to school was not lost on me, but this trip is part of a larger conversation to actively involve teachers at the Museum. We started with the Tribe’s newest school, Pemayetv Emahakv Charter School giving them a presentation about the Museum services offered to the Seminole communities. All Seminole schools pre-K and primary offer culture classes, so the Museum acts as one more resource for Seminole students to study their history.

The best resources the Museum has to offer are thousands of primary documents and three-dimensional artifacts. Much of the follow up conservation focused-on how to get students interested enough to ask questions and explore further beyond the text. They agreed that any resource should be online and easily accessible; the first steps towards learning more will most likely take place on an IPod or Smartphone.  Additional suggestions encouraged the use of online resources for the classroom: live webinars, where students could chat with staff; downloadable or online lessons; and podcasts. We currently offered an online catalog of much of our collection which grows as the collection staff digitizes our collection, in addition to Podcasts and virtual tours.

Diana Stone, Education Coordinator is introducing Everett Osceola, Outreach Specialist at "Postcards & Perceptions" Opening

One of the services mentioned, is an event upcoming for spring 2011 aimed at teaching about the STOF’s Tribal Historic Preservation Office and how they use the skills of math and science to study the past. This peaked several teachers interest in ways they can use Museum resources and programs to inspire students to study the fields of math and science.  As a cultural and historical Museum, we compete with the FCAT, Florida’s Standardized Test, which focuses on the subjects of math, science, reading and writing; to be an applicable Museum experience for field trips or classroom time these subjects are a must have to even be considered by most schools.

Continuing the conservation means the Museum go beyond providing services to just the Tribal Schools; we also have a responsibility to students and teachers across the state of Florida. Over the next six months, Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum is also providing workshops to several Florida public school teachers partnering with the Florida Humanities Council, the Broward County School District, and the Collier County School District. Each workshop plans to bring more teachers to the Museum and more Seminole culture and history information into the classroom.

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A Place to Learn in the Post-Colonial Era

…non-Natives, including curators and other scholars, cannot themselves adequately represent the views of others and should no longer try. What they can do however is report on those views and provide better opportunities for people to represent themselves within the established museum context, through collaboration, joint curatorships, commissioned programs and exhibitions, and other forms of, empowerment.

Michael Ames 1992

The task of writing this week’s blog has fallen on me, Jonathan McMahon, the content guy.  So, for my first foray into our electronic institution I wanted take a moment to be a little reflective; not just on the museum, but also my experiences in the museum field.  Sit back, relax if you can, and read a little on the cultural history that led to the birth of the Ah-Ta-Thi-Ki Museum.

Now allow me to pontificate for a bit.  None of this is new for most of you but here’s a little refresher.  For almost 500 years, the indigenous peoples of the Americas suffered at the hands of colonizing Western powers.  Two continents and hundreds of islands in the Caribbean, the Atlantic, and the Pacific were home to countless cultures in the Americas before the disease, greed, and religion of the European empire builders came to seek their fortunes.  Travelers began collecting American Indian objects as examples of material culture, which were used to paint a mental image that often either villainized or romanticized native peoples.

So of course museums came to the rescue, right?  WRONG!  Museums were the worst offenders.  They were places where glorified cabinets of curiosity became the trophy houses of the elite “gentleman explorers” of Western states.   The early museums portrayed “culture” as a coherent, monolithic, and static system that paid insufficient attention to the way ideas and meanings were rooted in relations of power and the practical tasks of daily life.  Chances are your favorite museums were (or maybe still are) guilty of these.  Few museums were representing cultural descendants in a contemporary context, instead focusing on their historic and prehistoric past, which in turn supported negative stereotypes and misconceptions which manifest themselves in the outdated and racist notions of “authenticity” and “primitivism” as Phillip Cash Cash argued in 2001:

Traditional Arts Coordinator and Tribal Member, Pedro Zepeda, shares knowledge of his Seminole culture at the Ringling College or Art and Design.

At sites where cultures intersect, such as museums, the mobilization of meaning and ritual expression often loom larger than life when originating cultures assert claims of authenticity and authority over objects.  More often than not, these indigenous claims are counter hegemonic since they often arise out of lived cultural realities that exist outside the boundaries of the museum. As a result, the exclusive domains of property, representation, and control that constitute the common, everyday functions of the museum are directly challenged, thus calling into question traditional museum policies and practice.

Feeling guilty?  Don’t.  Even though the European colonizers dictated the cultural narrative and the colonized cultures were all too often sidelined as others told their story things are changing.  In recent decades a new tide surged onto America’s shores when indigenous people began speaking out and writing their stories, their histories, in their own words.  It was during this post-colonial period when Billy Cypress began his mission to create a museum for the unconquered but still marginalized Seminole Tribe of Florida.  This museum became the only one to feature the Florida Seminole voice above all others.  As the Tribe’s fortunes have shifted in an era when political and public opinion is shaped by biased sensationalism, it continues to be of the utmost importance for the Tribe to tell their own story. 

I am the first to admit that even this museum has been responsible of a few missteps (lacking contemporary Seminole views, less focus on modern and contemporary Native art, celebrating the exploitation of the Tribe by non-Native scholars and artists) but recent progress has been made in the forward momentum and improvement of our institution.  In the last few months the Interpretive Plan Committee has been meeting with Seminole Tribal advisory groups in an attempt to resolve these issues. 

The late Billy Cypress (right) reviews construction plans for the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum

As a non-Native employee, it is my duty to help facilitate the mission of the Tribe’s former museum director and help the Seminole Tribe tell its own story.  Whether I am performing a boring task such as looking something up in a book to include in a text panel, or loftier projects such as organizing meetings within the various Seminole communities to determine our exhibit and program topics, I am but a humble and temporary employee of the tribe because, as some dead white guy once said, “Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.”  Let’s just hope the right people are telling the story.

The Most Exciting Time of the Year

It’s that time of the year again.  No, not Christmas or any other major holiday, rather on June 1st our part of the country sees the start of hurricane season.  While this might not seem all that exciting to other portions of the country, down here in South Florida hurricane season is a time of year met with some anxiety.  In 2005, South Florida was hit with storm after storm, one of which plowed its way across the everglades causing extensive damage to the Big Cypress Reservation.  So what does this matter to those of us who work behind the scenes in the Collections Division of the Museum?  Besides creating hurricane kits and preparing our homes for the possibility of storms, the Collections Division staff also finds itself creating kits and preparing plans for the rescue and stabilization of the galleries and collection storage areas found at the Museum.  One of the main ways in which we prepare for the possibility of being impacted by a storm is to run training sessions, for example our Emergency Preparedness, Response and Salvage in Museum Collections workshop held in February 2010. 

            Besides going through training, Collections staff also needed to prepare kits in order to deal with any disasters that might occur.  Unlike the hurricane kits possibly kept in your home, our museum disaster kits contain items such as nitrile gloves, masks, caution tape, and many different absorbent materials that will help us deal with any water type disaster.  Our disaster kits are also kept in rolling carts that can be moved around the property and brought to the site of the disaster itself. 

Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum Emergency Cart

Another large part of hurricane preparedness is planning.  In 2005, when Hurricane Wilma cut across the everglades, portions of the roof were torn from the main Museum building.  This caused water to pour into the Museum, which in turn damaged some of mannequins currently on display.  Most of the damage was minor and quickly fixed, but Museum staff realized that if another category 5 storm would hit the Museum action had to be taken.  In conjunction with a mold mitigation project that occurred in 2007, the staff devised a plan to de-install all of the mannequins and artifacts currently on display in the 5500 square feet of gallery space.  After a months work of planning and testing, the staff can now de-install and secure the entire gallery in one day. 

Courtesy of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Since the very active hurricane season of 2005, South Florida has not been hit by any hurricanes.  But a major mistake many South Florida residents fall into is the idea that since the past few years have seen no storms, we can become lax in our preparation and planning for this year’s season.  It is one of our major responsibilities as residents of this particular region to always be on watch and prepared for the next major storm.

Wait, so you don’t dig up gold?

Indiana Jones and Tombraider were nowhere in sight at the 2009 field season at the suspected Fort Shackelford site on the Big Cypress Reservation. While the archaeologists at the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum are not being chased by Russian spies, we do have some exciting things happening that impact the archaeological community. The following is an account from one of our field technicians on his experience in the field:

My name is Derek Braun. I am an archaeological field technician for the Tribal Archaeology Section (TAS), but I also assist and conduct Ground-Penetrating Radar (GPR) Surveys for the TAS and Tribal Historic Preservation Office (THPO). GPR is a non-invasive geophysical surveying technique which can be used to find some archaeological features. In layman’s terms, “GPR works by sending a tiny pulse of energy into a material and recording the strength and the time required for the return of any reflected signal http://www.geophysical.com/WhatIsGPR.htm, (2010).” The basic steps for GPR are as follows: a survey is conducted over an area likely to have archaeological remains, the data has to be processed to make a visual image showing high reflection areas (possible archaeological features), and finally the high reflection areas are ground truthed or excavated to determine an explanation for said anomaly. For more detailed information see the GSSI website posted above. One of the most common uses in archaeology for GPR is cemetery mapping.

Derek Braun

While employed by the Seminole Tribe of Florida (STOF), I have assisted Dr. Kent Schneider with the GPR survey for the Fort Shackelford relocation project. Ft. Shackelford was an early to mid-nineteenth century military fort located on the Big Cypress Reservation.  We surveyed a large portion of land surrounding the Fort Shackelford monument. In the spring of 2009, an archaeological field school was conducted under the supervision of the STOF-THPO, and the Florida Golf Coast University. The field school provided a chance to ground truth some of the high reflection anomalies found after the processing of the GPR data for the Fort Shackelford relocation project survey. Unfortunately, no archaeological features were located during the field school. This should not reflect negatively on GPR, because like any process negative results will exist. Personally, I have seen a number of archaeological features located using GPR in the academic and professional field. Hopefully this brief glimpse into GPR will inspire some of you to look into or pursue a career in geophysical surveying techniques for archaeology.

Archaeologists at work

If you are interested in learning more about Ft. Shackelford or about the Tribal Historic Preservation Office in general, join us at the Florida Anthropological Society Meeting which will be held on May 7-9, 2010 in Fort Myers. We will be discussing the results of a unique collaborative research project between the Tribal Historic Preservation Office of the Seminole Tribe of Florida and the Anthropology Program at Florida Gulf Coast University. Hope to see you there!

Fort Shackelford field school

“Reach Out and Touch Someone”

Hey, hey you… I’m going to let you in on a little scoop.  Coming in 2011 the museum is developing a theme that we are internally calling “Get in touch with the Museum.”  This is going to be a full year of rolling out exciting openings, interactive elements, and programs all designed to engage the senses, stimulate the mind, and just have fun with cool stuff. 

            One of the biggest parts of next year is going to be the piece that inspired the theme.  The Microsoft® Surface™ multi-touch table top is a unit that runs interactive programming.  Basically, think Ms. Packman meets Star Trek.  The screen of the unit faces up and visitors will be able to sit or stand to interact.  The visitors will be able to scroll through several programs including a timeline of the three Seminole Wars, a map of a camp on which you will put actual game pieces that will guide you from place to place and tell you all about living in a camp, and a stickball game that up to four people will be able to play. 

            The table will actually arrive later this year in August of 2010, but because the programming is so intensive it will take several years to roll out all of the games, maps and stories.  To start, Quatrefoil Associates, with the help of the museum staff, will be putting together an interactive timeline of the three Seminole Wars.  This program will highlight the battles, leaders, weapons, and treaties of those wars in a graphical representation which will also include reenactment footage, archival documents, contemporary accounts, and artifact images.  Visitors will be able to interact with the timeline in several ways to go more in depth.  Important dates will link with images of artifacts either related to those events or are emblematic of that time period.  Along with the interactive Seminole Wars timeline, there will also be a static timeline showing concurrent events from around the county and the world.  This will help to show the context of the war periods.

            Other ways in which the Museum will invite people to “get in touch” will be though a technology called iCell.  One might think this is the latest product for making phone calls and listening to music but it is actually a proximity sensor system that reacts to body heat.  When the viewer comes close to touching an area or taps on a surface the infrared sensors detect the body heat and trigger a backlight and a video on a nearby monitor.  The videos highlight a certain interesting snippet of information on a piece, or a depiction of how something was used. After a beta testing of the product in the upcoming Tools of War exhibit we are hoping to add the technology to several of the permanent exhibits.

            Also in 2011 we will be expanding the already in place Guide By Cell® tour stops found throughout the current Postcards and Perceptions: Culture as Tourism exhibit and out along the Boardwalk.  If you haven’t tried out the tours come by and give a listen, there are no hand held units to rent or headphones to share. Simply use your very own cell phone to dial up the tour stops and hear Tribal Members tell their stories in their own words. 

            Everyone in the Exhibits Department and especially me are really looking forward to the next year and all of the exciting things we are developing.  The Microsoft® Surface™ will be a show piece in the museum and will also serve as a show piece for South Florida while keeping the first tribally owned museum accredited by the AAM on the cutting edge.  And along with the rest of the technological advancements and exciting upcoming programs, 2011 is the perfect time to “Get in touch with the Museum.”