Session 25: Understanding Archives in Museums 

Moderator: Pat Galloway (University of Texas Austin)
Researching Archival Environment: Methodology / Tamara Štefanac (University of Zagreb)

Doctoral thesis entitled “The Conceptualization of Archival Materials Held in Museums” investigates curators’ understandings of archival and documentary materials held in their museums (i.e. rather than in archives). Museums are special heritage environments where concerns with authenticity, originality, personality, information, education and entertainment intertwine. It is argued that the point where these concerns intersect is the curator, and that how the abovementioned concerns are approached is conditioned by his or her educational background, opinions, interests, professional practices. In current archival and museology practices archival materials in museums are described according to the differing professional standards that are accepted in individual repositories. It is also possible that materials are managed and described using some other descriptive standards if it is left to the curator to decide how they should be managed, described, exhibited and used. By choosing one descriptive standard over another they are choosing one form of access over another. How to research on this choice making? Consequences of chosen approach are clearly seen but state that preceded choices is in fact in the realm of personal cognition. How to research this state? What methods are best suited for research of this kind? How to gain insight into curators’ standpoints regarding documentation they produce in the course of their research, exhibition planning and project management activities? This paper presents methodology that is employed in abovementioned research (doctoral dissertation), and discuss about process of the research, encountered obstacles and questions what methodology is fruitful when researching archival environment and record management systems in non-archival institution. Methods discussed here are content analysis, in-depth interviews, authoethnography, ethnography and surveys.

20 Questions, Artifact Edition: Understandings of Provenance in Museums and Archives / Sarah Buchanan (University of Texas Austin)

Provenance is a central concept in archival studies as well as in archaeological curatorship, with each discipline defining it in similar terms. These definitions each reflect an attention to chronology and origin which has shaped the ways in which repositories collect and manage artifacts. In the archives field, the principle of provenance is acknowledged as a foundation for archival description standards that have been created and applied on a national scale. While its application in particular contexts has been challenged over the last century, provenance has also expanded conceptually from its early articulations to now encompass a range of datapoints that are sought-after by researchers who may interact with both artifacts and the archives created separately as documentary evidence. Katharina Hering, writing in the Journal of Digital Humanities (2014), likens archival provenance to historical source criticism, emphasizing how the archivist’s pursuit of one or both is spurred by an obligation to provide accurate metadata in finding aids and catalog records. Museums have participated in the archaeological endeavor over the last century in their roles providing stewardship for artifact collections, including such post-excavation activities as conservation, cataloging, and exhibiting. Particularly over the last decade, so too have museum curators increased the level of scrutiny toward existing and potential collections, and these efforts focus on discovering and documenting objects’ provenance, as well as their provenience, a sister term in archaeology. Still, while museums and archives approach provenance with a common respect for its value as a collections management principle, the ways in which they undertake provenance research are different and revealing. This presentation will explore an aspect of my dissertation research that considers how collecting institutions communicate provenance, particularly as a component of exhibits and digital collections. It will illustrate the emergence of provenance research from its own origins in art history and its present-day expressions in museums’ and archives’ online collection descriptions.

Archivists and Digital Asset Managers: Collisions from a Museum Context / Anthony Cocciolo (Pratt Institute)

While archivists have been developing methods to appraise, accession, arrange and describe born-digital records, a new class of professionals—the digital asset manager—has developed. The digital asset manager sees her role as creating a repository of assets that can be easily and efficiently reused by staff. Given the closeness of this role to the archivist, this case study will explore the question: what issues arise between archivists and digital asset managers when they are working together in the same organization? To study this, the researcher spent one year as a participant observer at a major art museum located in the northeast United States. He found that indeed tensions do exist firstly because the digital asset manager and archivists do not recognize the different roles each is playing and hence enter a kind of competition. Secondly, this tension stems from an intellectual disagreement about how digital record keeping will play-out over the next several decades. The study will conclude with suggested ways of moving forward so that both digital asset managers and archivists can further their respective missions.