A Trip to The Cleveland Museum of Natural History

The Cleveland Museum of Natural History has always been my favorite museum to visit, and not just because I grew up so close to it. The Cleveland Museum of Natural History is an excellent example of a museum done right. It’s educational, engaging, and fun, and it makes you want to go again and again to see everything there and maybe try to find the Easter eggs they hide throughout the museum that I’ll explain more about later.

When you first start walking through the museum, the first area you reach allows you to go to two of my favorite parts of the museum. The first is their incredible fossil collection they have on exhibit year-round. They have numerous skeletons of dinosaurs, including the most complete mount of Coelophysis bauri and some of the best preserved examples of Late Devonian Shale fish known to exist, like their fossil of Dunkleosteus terrelli, a giant armored fish from the period, that was always one of the first things I wanted to look at.

If you head outside from this area of the museum, you enter the live animal habitat, where they have numerous animals from Northeast Ohio. They have everything from skunks, to otters, to several kinds of owls and hawks. The animal habitat is best to visit in the warmer months of the year though, as many of the animals either hibernate or need to be taken inside for most of the winter months.

The museums also has an incredible display of of prints of Audubon’s “Birds of America” collection of his famous realistic prints of birds from all across North America. The prints are stunning in detail and the museum separates the birds into the areas of the country they can be found, with many even having examples of what the birds sound like available for you to play.

Another of my favorite of their year-round exhibits is their exhibition on insects. I personally am terrified of most insects in real-life but find them incredibly interesting to look at and learn about. The Cleveland Natural History Museum excels at allowing for this. The museum has an extensive display of all sorts of insects and arachnids. They have mounts of all sorts of butterflies and beetles, as well as living, caged examples of many spiders, millipedes, and other creatures you wouldn’t want loose in the museum.

One of the things the Museum excels at are it’s programs for children. Every weekend they have some sort of workshop for kids to come in and participate in, many of which I have fond memories of doing as a child. From letting kids handle some of the live animals, to workshops on fossils and where to find them around Cleveland, the museums provides many opportunities for kids around the city to come and be a part of the museum.

The thing that the Cleveland Museum of Natural History may be most well-known for though, is their habit of hiding easter eggs among their displays. Two of the most well known are a small plastic VW Beetle hiding among the mounts of real beetles, and the small chocolate Easter egg in one of the bird’s nests on display. They put others up for short periods of time occasionally, but these are the two that most everyone who visits the museum can find and usually have a laugh at.

The Cleveland Museum of Natural History was one of my favorite places to visit as a child, and I’m always glad to visit it now that I’ve gotten older and see that it’s still just as amazing of a place as I remember. With their focus on making displays interesting and relevant, providing learning opportunities for local kids and schools, and hiding Easter eggs among their displays to keep people paying close attention to the displays, I feel as though the Cleveland Museum of Natural History does an excellent job integrating itself with the community it serves and making visits a pleasant and educational experience.


A Review of the Louvre Website

The Louvre is by far one of the most famous museums in the world holding such master pieces as the Mona Lisa and the Winged Victory of Samothrace. It is the premiere museum for the exploration of the arts and classical objects.

When you first log onto the Louvre website you are immediately greeted with the website in French. You must go to the top right hand corner in order to switch the website to English. The sliding cover image is filled with such links to explore the masterpieces and then go see the new galleries such as one on the Art of French Living. They even have one thanking the sponsors of the museum if you wait long enough on that page.

The tabs on the top of the page are used for guidance to what one would assume are the most sought after topics. The first one being about planning your visit to the Louvre. When you glide over the topic a bunch of other subtopics come down to help you get more in depth. I really like this format. It is easy to navigate and super straight forward. The subtopics include how to get to the museum, where to eat, and the floor plans. As someone who got lost in the Louvre, having the floor plans is awesome. It is very easy to get lost in the museum.

The next topic is activities and tours. This topic seems to be aimed more towards educators and people that are buying the audio tour. It also gives you the link to look at the guided tours that are available. They also have the link to what is a virtual tour and overview of some of the amazing artifacts that are in the collections. This of course, only gives the highlights but that is what I would want to see. It is good to let people know the vastness of the collection.

The next tab is about the exhibits and the current events that are happening at the Louvre at that moment. It’s a good thing to know what is happening and when so you can plan out you’re visit to the museum.  I would like to know about the things that are happening while I am at the museum and this is the section I would go to for that.

The second to last tab has links to online tours and the collections that are catalogued online. The online tour would probably be for people who don’t have the ability to go to the Louvre for various reasons. I spent five days at the Louvre, and I know I didn’t see everything. I think that the accessibility to the online collections is so handy. I would think that they are utilized by many people.

My favorite section and the last section is the learning about art tab. It how different ways that art can be taught and the elements of art. This is a good section for a beginner who has never been to an art museum before. Including tales of the louvre an interactive story of the beginning of the Louvre.

I think that the website does have faults. The main one being that you aren’t getting the same content on the pages with the different languages. The website that is in French is not the same as the English page. I think it would be useful to have a universal page. The same homepage showing the same exhibits for all languages. I scanned through most of the languages and a lot of them were different. I think that overall this website is very well put together.

I think that overall the webite is well put together and very user friendly. I would definitely use it in the future.

Audience Reception: Resonance, Wonder, Memory, and #Selfies

This week in class we’re talking about audience reception. How do various members of the viewing public take in, interpret, view, see, and receive the images and information museums provide? How are we enculturated and socialized to view museum objects, and how, through in-the-moment interactions, do we actually end up experiencing them?

Heath and Von Lehn emphasized the importance of social interactions in and around exhibits and how viewers shape each others views and experiences of the objects on display.1 This might be extended to suggest that how people comport themselves in exhibit spaces is both an expression of peoples viewed of appropriate behavior, and a means by which this socially and culturally appropriate behavior is modeled and enforced.

The level of voices talking, whether in hushed whispers, or loud declaiming statements, sets a tone and level of expectation for others entering that space.  Museums may post signs asking for quiet, or asking people not to touch, and while such rules might be enforced by museum personnel, some museum-goers will also instruct and attempt to enforce such rules on the others with them, or on others in that shared space.

To add to this, we can add the ingredients that Greenblatt described as resonance and wonder.  “By resonance I mean the power of the displayed object to reach out beyond its formal boundaries to a larger world, to evoke in the viewer the complex, dynamic cultural forces from which it has emerged and for which it may be taken by a viewer to stand. By wonder I mean the power of the displayed object to stop the viewer in his or her tracks, to convey an arresting sense of uniqueness, to evoke an exalted attention.”2

To experience wonder, according to Greenblatt, it helps to strip away everything else. To take away the placards describing context, or explaining the technique or style of the artist, to take away the historical and social context, and view an aesthetically pleasing and valuable work as just that, aesthetically pleasing.  This mode of viewing is one, most often associated with art museums, that postulates a universal aesthetic sensibility that all humans share.

However, it is exactly this proposition, that there exists some deep and fundamental, (and structural in the Levi-Straussian sense) shared human aesthetic, and a capability for discerning judgement that some people naturally possess that led Bourdieu to write Distinction,3 an entire book dedicated to debunking this belief, and instead arguing that aesthetic tastes are socially and culturally defined, and that some members of society have greater power and sway in defining these modes and values of aesthetic appreciation.  Bourdieu elaborated that it is specifically the members of the ‘cultural nobility’ or those with the greatest cultural capital, measured in terms of the level of education achieved, as well as to some extent social and economic class, that define what qualifies as taste and aesthetic judgement.

But in the realm of the memorial, in museums and spaces designed to memorialize the dead, and the historical circumstances that surrounded their death, there are battles over what forms of expression, taste, and appreciation are appropriate and correct. Two examples have been in the news lately that spring to mind. One is the construction, contents, and representations of the 9/11 Museum (and its gift shop and cafe), and the other is the phenomenon of taking selfies around the Ground Zero site and museum, and also in concentration camps like Auschwitz.

Who are the arbiters of taste when the judgements in question fall into the realm of moral and social propriety?

Via: The Daily Mail

Via: The Daily Mail

To return to the ideas of resonance and wonder, the 9/11 Museum, (and other memorial museums) are designed around the idea of resonance. They are designed with the idea that many of the visitors will already have a personal connection to the tragedy.  They are also designed to amplify that resonance, to bring into focus the events of that day, and the lives affected, to bring into a shared sense of memory, even those who do not themselves remember.

In this way the 9/11 Museum shares much in common with the Holocaust Museum, as well as museums and sites in Europe commemorating the Jewish community, and the deaths of millions of Jews (and others) at the hands of the Nazis in WWII. As with many holocaust memorials, the mantra is “never forget”, a sense that these historical events have to be preserved in our shared memories, transmitted to younger generations, so that the atrocities will never be repeated.

How can that resonance be created? How can we ensure that the resonance extends to younger generations who don’t have as direct a personal connection to the people and events in question?

It is here that I want to rejoin the ideas of Heath and vom Lehn, Bourdieu with the ideas of emotional and personal resonance with the historical introduced by Greenblatt.

Recently, the phenomenon of teenagers taking selfies at Auschwitz has exploded in the media and on social networks, and with more attention drawn by an article in the New Yorker.  One young woman, who tweeted a smiling picture of herself at Auschwitz, received death threats, after her tweets went viral. Even so, in contextualizing her own actions, she says that she took the picture to commemorate her own visit to the site, on the one year anniversary of her father’s death. But this one teenager isn’t the only one doing it, and it’s not just at Auschwitz or Dachau. This article in the Daily Mail points out that the phenomena includes selfies taken at Ground Zero, and in and around the 9/11 Museum.

In an article in the Washington Post, Caitlin Dewey brings to bear some of the literature analyzing the phenomenon of selfies, suggesting that the selfie is the contemporary expression of “I was there”. But she goes on to say:

“That doesn’t make it “okay,” to borrow an un-nuanced, Web-ready phrase. In truth, it’s hard to think of anything less sensitive, less appropriate or less self-aware than a “selfie in the Auschwitz Concentration Camp” — smiley — as if the suffering of millions of people was somehow subsumed by Breanna’s own personal narrative. She was there, sure, but so were tens of thousands of others, and her willful minimization of that fact is, frankly, pretty gross.” – Caitlin Dewey, The Washington Post, July 22, 2014

But while Ruth Margalit in the New Yorker asks the question: Should Auschwitz Be a Site for Selfies?, an op-ed piece by Leonard Pitts, Jr., (columnist for The Miami Herald), is titled “Selfies in Auschwitz — and why it’s wrong“. For Pitts, perhaps sadly, or revealingly, his opinion is framed in terms of a grumbling *kids these days* kind of statement.

“But this whole thing of mugging for cameras in inappropriate places feels viscerally … wrong. It suggests a cluelessness, a shallowness, and an incapacity for reverence that have come to feel like the signature of these times. It suggests a lack of home training and a surplus of narcissism that have come to feel ubiquitous. For all her professed love of World War II history, Breanna Mitchell bespeaks a fundamental lack of respect for, and comprehension of, that history when she poses at Auschwitz — death place for nearly 1.1 million human beings — like she thinks she’s at Epcot.” — Leonard Pitts, Jr. on Newsday.com, July 27, 2014

So to return to Heath and vom Lehn, how are social interactions, and the body language, and gesture of some visitors to memorial sites conditioning others?  Does one person taking a selfie at Auschwitz make it seem ok to others? Is that how this started? And conversely, how many attempted selfies in front of gas chambers have been shamed or cajoled into not taking that selfie, or deleting it? How many social interactions, in the moment and in the place, have attempted to push back against this mode of interaction with the place?

Further, to return to Bourdieu, who in society are the arbiters of taste, or propriety, when it comes to how we perceive and interact with memorials to the dead, and the history that surrounds them?  Does cultural capital matter? Or is it another sort of capital, the moral authority of personal connection to that tragedy?  Many of the news articles would seem to defer to the families of the victims of 9/11, including the families of working class firefighters and rescue workers, who do not fit neatly into Bourdieu’s schema of taste.

It is a debate that is raging in our society at the moment, a standoff between of selfie-takers on the one hand, who don’t see the harm, and families of the dead, both Holocaust and 9/11, who are profoundly disturbed by the lack of respect, on the other. To them the selfie is the ultimate expression of disrespect, which they view as a selfish or narcissistic act that takes away from the memory and commemoration of the dead, to instead commemorate oneself.

In order for resonance to occur, Greenblatt points out, we should not focus exclusively on the objects themselves, (nor on ourselves – though he doesn’t say this explicitly), but on the connection we feel between ourselves and the objects.

“The resonance depends not upon visual stimulation but upon a felt intensity of names, and behind the names, as the very term resonance suggests, of voices: the voices of those who chanted, studied, muttered their prayers, wept, and then were forever silenced.” – Stephen Greenblatt4


1. Christian Heath and Dirk vom Lehn, “Configuring Reception: (Dis-)Regarding the ‘Spectator’ in Museums and Galleries,” Theory, Culture & Society 21 (2004): 43-65.  
2. Stephen Greenblatt,  “Resonance and Wonder” in Exhibiting Cultures: The Poetics and Politics of Museum Display, ed. Ivan Karp and Steven D. Lavine, (Smithsonian Institution Press, 1991): 42.
3. Pierre Bourdieu, Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste, Routledge, 1984, originally published as La Distinction. Critique social du jugement (Les Éditions de Minuit, 1979). 
4. Greenblatt, “Resonance and Wonder,” 47.

Crowdfunding a Museum: The Curious Partnership of a Nonprofit Organization and a Humor Website

In 1898, Nikola Tesla began plans for the Wardenclyffe Tower, a tower meant to provide power transmission and trans-Atlantic broadcast completely without wires. The tower was built in Long Island, New York, and Tesla began his work there in 1902. The project went downhill, however; design changes and loss of funding due to financiers not being satisfied with what they gained from the project led to the tower being abandoned in 1911. Before Wardenclyffe saw another headline, it saw two decades of use by a photographic company, then two more decades of ownership by an imaging company, followed by a cleanup effort to clear away the resulting silver and cadmium pollutants.

Wardenclyffe Laboratory and Tower, 1917 (view of the north entrance)

After years of varying neglect and alternate use and a designation as a Superfund hazardous waste site, Wardenclyffe found its way back into relevancy. The nonprofit group The Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe formed a strange partnership with internet comic artist Matthew Inman, owner of the website The Oatmeal, best known for Inman’s tongue-in-cheek grammar comics, expressive wildlife comics, and humorous publications, including Inman’s first book, 5 Very Good Reasons to Punch a Dolphin in the Face (And Other Useful Guides).

It began with Inman’s initial post in 2012. Using The Oatmeal’s signature recipe of sincerity mixed with vulgarity and Inman’s own opinions and pet interests, Inman posted a comic titled “Why Nikola Tesla Was the Greatest Geek Who Ever Lived” discussing some of Tesla’s inventions and why Inman believes Tesla was superior to Thomas Edison, which garnered criticism with its heavy bias but served the ultimate purpose of beginning the project to save Wardenclyffe. Inman followed this with a post to his blog calling his legions of fans to support The Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe’s effort to purchase the land where Tesla’s laboratory still stands to save it from potentially being demolished so that a for-profit company could build a commercial center. The post explained in minimalist terms the situation: The TSCW needed $1.6 million to buy the land, and New York state would give them a matching grant if they could raise $850,000, so the nonprofit needed funding. Inman, in support of the nonprofit, began the IndieGoGo campaign aptly titled “Let’s Build a Goddamn Tesla Museum.”

Between August 15th and September 29th of 2012, the campaign not only reached its goal of $850,000 but exceeded it, gaining a total of $1,370,461, a full 161% of its original goal, from 33,000 individual donors. Inman posted on his blog that, in nine days, the campaign managed to gain over a million dollars and raise $27,000 per hour at its peak, crashing IndieGoGo.

IndieGoGo Page

In May of 2013, Inman posted an update to let his fans know that the land was finally, as of May 2nd, signed over to the TSCW. Inman also stated that, while the land was safe from being demolished, the nonprofit still needed help restoring Tesla’s lab and building the facilities needed for the land to operate as a functioning museum. Inman’s next update came in conjunction with his review of the Tesla Model S car he bought. The update called on the owner of the Tesla car company, Elon Musk, also a co-founder of PayPal and founder of the private space enterprise SpaceX, to donate to the effort to fund the construction of the museum, which was not covered with the initial campaign funds. Inman noted that Musk’s company uses the Tesla name and technology but, due to Tesla releasing his patents, is in no way required to pay the Tesla estate for the ability to use the name or the technology. Inman tweeted the post to Musk on May 13th of 2014; Musk responded, simply stating, “I would be happy to help.” After a phone call with Musk, Inman reported that “1. He’s going to build a Tesla Supercharger Station in the parking lot of the museum,” and “2. He’s donating $1 million to the museum itself.”

Inman posted the most recent update to his Facebook page on September 24th. The post offers readers two ways to continue contributing to the museum’s funding, now aimed at building a new roof for Tesla’s lab: readers can buy a shirt or sweatshirt with the Tesla Motors logo on it, or they can buy a brick in one of three sizes that would have their name etched into it, along with their company’s logo at the largest size, to be placed on the museum property to honor the donor.

So far, the museum has installed a monument to Nikola Tesla in the form of a statue near the museum’s entrance. The construction process is coming slowly, but one thing the effort is not lacking is funds. Through the unconventional partnership of a nonprofit and an internet comic author, the Tesla museum effort has raised funds nearing $3 million, those being only the readily available numbers reported by Inman and in news articles and not counting the $850,000 grant supplied by New York state.

The effects on the museum itself of such a comprehensive effort of thousands of everyday internet users working together to make the museum a reality are still unclear. The act of crowdfunding a museum is not without precedent; many museums, including the Arthur A. Sackler Gallery, part of the Smithsonian, have relied on crowdfunding to help with costs. However, crowdfunding to the degree that the Tesla museum has seen is an altogether new phenomenon. The Tesla museum has been widely funded from its inception, not only by wealthy investors as Tesla’s original lab was funded but largely by ordinary people, from science enthusiasts to everyday readers of Matthew Inman’s comics. This very wide public investment in a private museum enterprise is one that relies on the very young business of crowdfunding which, according to a post by the Future of Museums blog, relies not only on supporters but on enthusiasts. Many of those who donated were inspired to enthusiasm by Inman’s comics lauding Tesla’s inventions and decrying Tesla’s relative obscurity beside Thomas Edison. By setting Tesla up as a technological hero, Inman created an image people wanted to see glorified and therefore were willing to help fund.

It’s difficult to tell, at present, where the project will go. However, it’s clear that the Tesla museum has set a new precedent for how a museum can be founded. The museum is no longer a stuffy affair funded by the wealthy; it is a project with enthusiastic investors in all walks of life contributing what they can and want to contribute to fund something they’ve been moved to support.

To donate to the museum effort, visit: http://www.teslasciencecenter.org/donate/

Museum Education in the Digital World: The Brain Scoop and The Field Museum’s Chief Curiosity Correspondent

In an effort to broaden their digital outreach and spread information about the work of Field Museum scientists, The Field Museum of Natural History hired Emily Graslie as their first-ever Chief Curiosity Correspondent in 2013. Emily Graslie is a dynamic young science educator and host of the popular YouTube series The Brain Scoop. Originally based at the University of Montana’s Philip L. Wright Zoological Museum, the Brain Scoop now covers The Field’s scientific research, conservation work, public education activities, and exhibitions. In addition to filming episodes of The Brain Scoop, Emily’s role as Chief Curiosity Correspondent includes giving talks, public demonstrations, and Q&A sessions at the museum.

Photo Source: thebrainscoop.tumblr.com/

Photo Source: thebrainscoop.tumblr.com/

The greatest asset of The Brain Scoop is Emily’s ability to enthusiastically communicate the value of the Field’s research, collections, and education programs in a unique and engaging manner.  Emily’s goofball attitude and nerdy demeanor have won the hearts of viewers around the world.  The Brain Scoop’s first video filmed on location at The Field Museum, titled “Welcome to The Field Museum” is a great example of the quirky humor that encourages Graslie’s fans to return week after week to check out the newest Brain Scoop episode. In this episode, Emily borrows a few props from the museum’s fictional “Gaudy Chairs n’ Lamps” collection and drags the chair and lamp around the museum in an effort to introduce her viewers to the various aspects of the museum that she will be covering in her channel.  The humor in the episode not only encourages viewers to return to the YouTube channel in the future to check out the next episode, but also encourages online viewers to visit The Field Museum and explore the amazing exhibits that Emily highlights.

Brain Scoop Facebook post. Original caption: "It's MuseumSelfie day on twitter and we just passed 200,000 subscribers on YouTube so here's a celebratory selfie with some dead chipmunks in Anna's lab! Thanks for watching, everyone! " Photo source: https://www.facebook.com/TheBrainScoop/photos_stream?ref=page_internal

Brain Scoop Facebook post. Original caption: “It’s MuseumSelfie day on twitter and we just passed 200,000 subscribers on YouTube so here’s a celebratory selfie with some dead chipmunks in Anna’s lab! Thanks for watching, everyone! “
Photo source: https://www.facebook.com/TheBrainScoop/photos_stream?ref=page_internal

The Chief Curiosity Correspondent job position and Brain Scoop channel are excellent methods for increasing the accessibility of museum collections to a broader audience. Less than 1% of the museum’s collections are on exhibit to the general public at any given time. However, Emily has access to the other 99% of the collections and can publish videos every week providing exciting behind-the-scenes tours of collections and research facilities that the average visitor would otherwise never have a chance to explore. Additionally, the digital element of the Brain Scoop channel is very effective at reaching out to a younger generation that may not have been able to visit the physical museum but is excited about engaging in a digital world. Emily Graslie helps the Field Museum accomplish the goal of reaching a large digital audience by not only running the Brain Scoop YouTube channel, but also a Brain Scoop Facebook page, Twitter account, Tumblr blog, and Instagram account. The social media outlets that Emily Graslie uses for her job as Chief Curiosity Correspondent are five sites that seem to be quite popular among people in their teens and twenties. Emily posts heartfelt thank yous to her followers for their support, intern projects, updates on research expeditions, video interviews with Field Museum scientists and staff members, and information about upcoming public talks/events.  Emily is clearly well-versed in how to get the attention of a large internet audience, as evidenced by the amount of “followers”, “likes”, and comments on her social media pages.

Another effective element of the Chief Curiosity Correspondent position and The Brain Scoop is the “Ask Emily” platform in which viewers can submit questions to Emily via Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, or Tumblr and she answers the questions in her next Brain Scoop video post. Audience questions range from specifics about animal behavior and anatomy, to how Emily got into her position as Chief Curiosity Correspondent, and what it is like to be a female working in the scientific field. Emily also responds to questions on the Facebook and Twitter accounts. When reading the comments on the YouTube channel, it is clear that the Brain Scoop is engaging and Emily is a great inspiration to many aspiring young scientists, especially young women in science.

Overall, the Brain Scoop and The Field Museum Chief Curiosity Correspondent are phenomenal platforms for public engagement. Emily Graslie should serve as an example to museums worldwide of how to effectively engage younger generations and large audiences in the education, research, and collections of museums. However, from the comments I have read on The Brain Scoop channel, I believe a majority of their audience members are young. The Brain Scoop is incredibly effective at reaching this young audience, but it would be interesting to investigate whether the channel is reaching a large portion of older generations and how other forms of digital media may be used to effectively reach different generations. The Field Museum would be wise to develop another position similar to the Chief Curiosity Correspondent job description, but aimed at a more mature generation, although Emily Graslie has set the bar high and it will be extremely difficult for anyone to fulfill the shoes of internet  that

Does Looting Fund Organized Crime and Terrorist Organizations?

This recent article published by the National Geographic seems to indicate that the answer to this question is a resounding yes. The article on the National Geographic’s website is a summary and analysis of an article printed in the June 2014 edition of the British Journal of Criminology by Scott MacKenzie and Tess Davis titled Temple Looting In Cambodia: Anatomy of a Statue Trafficking Network. The article on National Geographic and the paper it is reporting on describe the infamous looting of the notable temple site of Banteay Chhmar in Cambodia in 1998, and the paper by MacKenzie and Davis goes on to describe other similar looting events, revealing the inner workings of the looters’ organization and how their supply chain eventually reaches wealthy antiquities collectors. The article goes on to provide similar incidents in other war-torn and otherwise unstable government situations in Egypt, Afghanistan, Cambodia, and other places where instability has left important sites unguarded and vulnerable to looting. Looting is extremely common in the previously mentioned areas because it is a reliable source of income in otherwise volatile locales where other methods of earning income are disrupted. The real revelation of the paper is that although it was widely assumed, this paper provided some of the first and most well-documented proof of organized crime looting sites to fund criminal enterprises.

This paper and the National Geographic post written about it are extremely relevant to current events which further illustrate the main point of both that looting and crime are closely intertwined. While the National Geographic should be considered by no stretch of the imagination to be an equal to an academic, peer-reviewed article such as the paper it is reporting on, in this case it is surprisingly well-sourced and backs up the premise of the paper with further elaboration on the Cambodian example as well as similar cases in Iraq, Afghanistan, Egypt and elsewhere which show that similar networks of looters are involved in these locations as well. The article touches on methods of the looters as well, bringing up an interesting tangent regarding the relative ease of finding archaeological features using satellite imagery of services like Google Earth. In this case, digital resources and open access to the public can be good for amateur researchers trying to locate new sites, but also harmful because the same information is available to people like looters whose motives are much more harmful to the archaeological record.

Overall, the article and the paper are both very useful for spreading awareness of the increasing issue of looting and illegal sales of artifacts. These issues are important for museums to consider in that it has become evident that there exists ways of forging provenance and laundering looted items to make them appear legitimate. As such, even though museums usually aren’t the prime targets for looted artifact sales, institutions should be wary of acquiring objects from high risk areas like those previously mentioned in order to collect artifacts in an ethical manner. Obtaining objects ethically is becoming more of a challenge for museums as looting is on the rise with new ways of disguising looted objects with ethically collected ones.

Recent unrest in Syria and Iraq caused by ISIS once again is proving that there is a link between looting and terrorist activity, showing that looting is a trend that will continue in areas of instability and conflict. Another article, also by the National Geographic explains how, like al Qaeda before them, ISIS is now utilizing the illicit taxing of the rights to dig for artifacts as well as the sale of the items themselves as a large source of funding in addition to the sale of oil in the Middle East. Their process of cashing in on these objects is less organized than the examples in Cambodia and elsewhere in the previous article, but because of this much more damage is being done by a larger number of people with varying degrees of affiliation with ISIS. The following descriptions and images are from:


Apamea as seen on Google Earth July 19, 2011.

The ancient city of Apamea, in Syria—founded by one of Alexander the Great’s generals and nominated in 1999 as a UNESCO World Heritage site—as seen on Google Earth on July 19, 2011.
Apamea as seen on Google Earth April 3, 2012.

Less than a year later, the same area at Apamea—seen here on Google Earth April 3, 2012—is covered with looting holes and clearly shows the massive destruction of the war. ISIS is believed to be using the proceeds from such plunder to help finance their insurgency.

A Critique of the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum Website

Overall, The Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum website  has a nice layout. I found it very easy to navigate and find critical information.  I enjoyed being able to explore what the museum has to offer, from the collections to educational outlets.  From the main page the you can easily find information such as hours and admission, directions, visiting tips, suggestions on what you can do and see at the museum, a floor plan, as well as a search box to find out what objects are on display in either the Washington D.C. or Chantilly VA, museums. The main tabs include Collections, Exhibitions, Restoration and Research. There are also tabs that catch the audience’s interest such as Spotlight Event, How Do Things Fly and On the Blog.  One thing I found initially confusing was that you could click on the images under each of the tabs, but they didn’t bring you to the tab’s main site. Instead it brought the visitor to the featured category under the tab.

Collections and Exhibitions

The collections page highlights the museums popular artifacts, such as the Wright Flyer and the Apollo 11 Command Module.  I found that you can browse through the displayed artifacts, but not every item has a link and the page itself is slow to load. Their exhibition page  features many online exhibitions.  For example, the exhibit on the main page is focused on the renovation of the main exhibit the Boeing Milestone of Flight Hall. The renovation seems to embody several of the changes we have been discussing. For example, they are trying to tie their objects together using a narrative, which includes cultural and political background and information. Instead of just presenting the audience with the artifact and the facts, the exhibit designers are trying to give some historical context to the objects, which I think is a step in the right direction as far as reinventing museums.

Trends in Social Media

The exhibit page also has a link to the milestone twitter page, where followers can receive up to date progress on the renovation. I find it funny that the biggest news on their twitter is the fact that the museum took the Starship Enterprise studio model off display. Of all the artifacts the museum has, the most popular is a science fiction set. The museums blog is also focused on the Star Trek set where they detail that their goal is conservation over preservation. I find this kind of odd, I’ve always felt that preservation was more important but maybe it depends on what kind of artifacts there are.  For example, it makes more sense to conserve pieces of a spacecraft but to preserve unique paintings.

Research and Artifacts

The museum researches many areas such as Aeronautics, Space History, and Earth and Planetary Studies. You can search and learn about different projects, but the information on the main page is focused on Mars and the Mars rover Curiosity. The museum has over 60,000 artifacts and over 20,000 of them are searchable on their online data base. Of the museum’s 60,000 artifacts only 20% of them are on display, and most of the 20% are the large air and space crafts. While most of the unseen objects are in storage a number of them are on loan to other institutions.

Engaging the Audience

The Spotlight Event page features events that the museum puts on.  For example, this Saturday they are sponsoring a stargazing event with astronomers which includes a program for children and access to telescopes. The How Things Fly tab focuses on educating children through interactive activities and also features “Explainers” who are high school and college students who can answer questions about flight. The idea of the “Explainers” is cool; I think it is a great idea to encourage young adults to be a part of the scientific community.

Final Thoughts

Overall, I liked the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum Website.  I found their organization easy to follow and the information interesting.  It made me want to go back to the museum and find the specific artifacts that were featured on the website.  I think the main goal of the museum’s website is to bring visitors to the museum.  They do this by providing information on interesting subjects that leave you wanting to learn more.  The major flaw for me was the collections page, it wouldn’t always load correctly, and you couldn’t use the search boxes to narrow down your search without the page freezing.  Something else that bothered me was that they liked to showcase exhibits that the general public knows about.  For example, they focus on the Mars Rover and Apollo 11.  Most people who are going to attend the museum already know a little about these subjects, while I find them both very interesting I would maybe like to learn more about less known artifacts and current research.