Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Quarterly-ish update, November 2016

Since my last update in August, I've been working on a couple of longer-term projects, so I have a bit less public-facing material to show for my work, but I'm happy with where things are going on them.

If you get a chance to stop by the Paul S. Russell, MD Museum of Medical History and Innovation at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, we recently put up an exhibit on Walter Guralnick, a retired oral surgeon who recently celebrated his 100th birthday, and on bits of the history of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery at MGH. Earlier this fall we did an exhibit on Visual Thinking Strategies, which is an art education technique that's now also being used in healthcare education. A smaller version of the exhibit is still in our second-floor gallery, and we will be moving the exhibit to a case in the main lobby of the hospital sometime in the new year. We are about to mount our first exhibit specifically designed for the hospital's research buildings in the Charlestown Navy Yard, a celebration of the 25th anniversary of fMRI scanning. If you're an MGHer, check it out in building 149, otherwise, stay tuned because we'll be moving it to a public area when it "retires" from the first space. Meanwhile, we're preparing to do an exhibit on MGH's involvement in World War One.

Online at A Catalog of Curiosity, I've continued blogging my learning journey of trying 100 new things in 1000 days, all focused around history, museums, writing, and teaching. Some of my favorite posts lately have been I Guess This is a Post About Beauty in Unexpected Places about the ropewalk at Mystic Seaport, and It Ain't Simple -- The Real (?) Lessons From Sojourner Truth. The most popular post since my last quarterly update has been What's Wrong with Mixing it Up? about the Knights! exhibit at the Worcester Art Museum.

I don't normally post political content here except when it's my own writing, but I need to acknowledge that America is in a very troubling place right now. Regardless of how you feel we got here, we are seeing an appalling amount of open rhetoric and action from white nationalists/white supremacists/the alt-right, neo-nazis, the Klan, and their sympathizers and their apologists. Here's a useful roundup of resources about how to help your community, by the good folks over at Autostraddle; it's specifically anti-Trump because of some of his policies and statements, but I believe it's useful to anyone against this kind of hatred, regardless of your politics. As an American and as a human, I have to use every channel I have available to speak out, and I urge you to do the same.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Quarterly-ish update, August 2016

I'm the first to admit that my website, which is intended to be a one-stop place to see what I've been up to, is the place I'm usually last to update. If you happen to be looking for what I'm doing right now, Twitter (@tegankehoe) is usually a better bet -- although it may be that what I'm doing right now is participating in a Twitter chat, which leads to a flood of tweets on a narrow subject. For the website, I intend to get on a schedule of updating quarterly. So here's what I've been up to lately:

I am currently the Exhibits and Education Specialist at the Paul S. Russell, MD Museum of Medical History and Innovation at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. It's a fascinating place to work!

Outside of work, you can find me at my current blog project, A Catalog of Curiosity. I'm a few months into a thousand day project to try one hundred new things and reflect on them. The things run the gamut from reading books and visiting museums I’ve been meaning to get to, to having grand new adventures. They are all connected to what I consider my work, which includes history, writing, teaching, navigating the role of museums in their communities, and more. Here is a sampling of the posts:

Thursday, December 17, 2015

The Good Things About Things -- A "raw" excerpt from a work in progress

Last month, I participated in National Novel Writing Month for the first time. The challenge is to write the first draft of a 50,000 -word novel in 30 days, but I was a part of the minority who chose to work in a different format. I drafted a 50k-word book of essays about life lessons from being a museum guide. The working title is "On Creaky Floors: Wit and Wisdom on the Life of a Museum Guide," but who knows how many times that will change as a more final version of the book takes shape. I celebrate Christmas and I recently finished my present shopping, so now feels like a good time to post this raw (unedited) excerpt about relationships with material things.

Becoming a “museum person” also helped me understand and affirm my relationship with material things. I say museum person here rather than guide, because I don’t think this particular kind of self-identification needs to be limited to staff and volunteers -- frequent museum-goers can have this feeling, too. As a counterargument to the constant commercial messaging of “buy, buy, buy!” we also get magazine articles and blog posts saying “minimalism is the answer, stop caring about stuff and you’ll be free and happy.” For some people, not having attachments to physical things is a core part of their philosophy or even their religion, and if it works for them, I’m glad. But for me, I’m not sure that would work. I don’t want to be on the buy buy buy train, and I don’t want to discard things just because there’s a new version out there, but I love some material things. I love family heirlooms (mine and other families’), I’m a knitter and I love yarn, I love the feeling and smell of physical books in my hands. I love to browse craft fairs as well as museums to marvel at the breadth and beauty of the things that people can make. I used to feel a little bit bad about this. Some of the anti-consumerist writing out there, and certainly some of the people who espouse those views, take on a moralist tone and imply -- or flat-out say -- that being attached to material things is weak or selfish. But in becoming intimately connected with museums, I’ve been able to recognize that the feelings I feel towards objects do not have an inherent morality to them. Recognizing the beauty in physical things,  associating them with delicious physical sensations (such as the feeling of a soft wool yarn on my fingers) or being moved by the intellectual or emotional connections they have in your mind is common and natural. One could even wax poetic about this tendency and say it’s a part of what makes us human, but that would be assigning another moral judgement on loving things, this time a positive one.

I’ve been able to deepen my understanding of the good things about things by studying material culture. This term, used mostly in history and anthropology, refers to the parts of culture that are expressed through material things. To the uninitiated it kind of sounds like it means the culture of materialism, and that’s a problem with the term, although I don’t know how that problem would be solved. But in fact, material culture is the study of any human-made objects, and what we do with them. Looking at history from a material culture perspective can mean looking at how new technologies for the household both enabled and celebrated a rising middle class to have leisure time in the first half of  the twentieth century. It can mean looking at how one carpenter’s bench was handed down through several owners and what modifications were made to it, and seeing evidence of changing styles of work. Looking at material culture for what it can tell us about the people who create, use, and even preserve it has helped me understand my own relationships with material things. This, and just spending time in museum galleries, has reminded me that there is a middle ground between having no material attachments and constant consumerism. Some things are unimportant, and some things are important. For my own part, I believe morality only comes into play when the way that you gain or keep things hurts others -- and to be sure, in our global economy that’s a relevant concern. The more I spend time in museums, the more artifacts and works of art I fall in love with, and they enrich my life.