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Thursday, April 5, 2012

CFP AAA 2012

Session organizers Melissa Biggs and Jonathan Bodinger are proposing a
session to the Council of Museum Anthropology for the 2012 American
Anthropology Association meetings in San Francisco entitled, "Crossing
Exhibition Borders: Telling Museum Stories in Unmuseum Places." They are
seeking proposals to fill one remaining space on the panel proposal
attached. Topics with international themes particularly welcome, but all
papers that deal with the session themes will be considered. Please submit
your abstracts to Melissa Biggs (<> and John Bodinger de Uriarte(<> by April 10th, 2012.

Crossing Exhibition Borders: Telling Museum Stories in Unmuseum Places

Organizers: Melissa Biggs and John Bodinger de Uriarte
Discussant: Joshua Bell, National Museum of Natural History

A tribal office between the American Girl mega store and the SpongeBob
Square Pants Rock Bottom Plunge. A stuffed buffalo looking out onto an
array of high-stakes slot machines. An exhibit in a town marketplace. An
open storage room in a university museum. Each of these vignettes
potentially frames a juxtaposition of the vernacular—shopping malls,
casinos, markets, hotel lobbies, and workplaces, for example—and designed
exhibitions that border on, or fully exemplify, the museological. These
are the potential ironies and border-crossings that invite rethinking
conventional museum spaces and practices.

With this in mind, our panel poses the following question: how can
museological practices vex the rubrics of curatorship and exhibition in
spaces both formal and vernacular? This panel recognizes exhibition space
as permeable and able to present multiple interior and exterior
possibilities for making sense—or different kinds of sense—in the gaps and
fissures that exceed formal museum space. It also recognizes that museum
spaces, both traditional and experimental, are powerful locations for
negotiations of sovereignty, nationhood, and tradition. How are the
borders of such exhibition spaces blurred or crossed in the practices of
self-representation? Cultivating such spaces permits the reworking of
conventional curatorial and viewer boundaries, from the contemplative to
the distractive, valuing the possibilities suggested by decentered
reception, and provoking new ways to imagine exhibitions and their
multiple publics.

INDIVIDUAL ABSTRACTS (alphabetical order)

Resorting to Nature: Claiming Identity at Barona Valley Ranch Resort and
Melissa Biggs, Independent Scholar

Tucked into the rocky hills east of San Diego, the Barona Valley Ranch
Resort and Casino invites visitors to "enjoy the best of San Diego's
resorts, with the casino gaming of Las Vegas." Operated by the Barona Band
of Mission Indians, the Resort and Casino was for several decades a
working ranch. It makes much of its scenic location, promoting the nature
paths and various gardens on the grounds and its commitment to
"environmental sustainability." A winding driveway leads visitors past a
sculpture group evoking Native spirits. The hotel, casino, and other
buildings have rustic exterior detailing recalling the ranching past;
brands that belonged to Barona Valley ranching families are impressed into
the concrete walkways. The hotel's interior continues these particularized
references, with reproductions of photographs depicting ranching scenes
decorating its walls. Aside from some token decorative touches, however,
the sleek casino avoids the bucolic. It displays the Blackjack Hall of
Fame, featuring exhibits about professional players and experts, and one
dedicated to cheaters and cheating.

This paper examines the connections, both overt and indirect, that public
spaces at the Resort and Casino makes between place as natural—native—and
place as cultivated. I argue that by presenting evidence of themselves as
both the inheritors of the valley and its resources, and as its careful
curators, the Barona establish a dual claim to legitimacy as nation, one
that draws on claims linked to the past through heritage and to the
present and future through managerial acumen and appropriate use.

Wag(er)ing Histories, Staking Territories: Crossing Museological and
Vernacular Borders John Bodinger de Uriarte, Susquehanna University
Since the passage of the 1988 Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, Indian gaming
has become a site and set of practices for scrutiny, often focused on the
authenticity of Native claims to sovereignty. Native sovereignties depend
on especial claims to histories, figured through registers of land and
language, politics and self-representation. These claims are often
supported through the self-representational practices of displays in
public spaces either created specifically for, or made to accommodate,
exhibitions using text, objects and images.
This paper raises the following questions: how do some contemporary tribal
nations re-articulate claims to past selves through present-day Indian
casinos, and how are these projected past selves re-animated through
contemporary gaming practices? I focus on the lobby exhibition at The Spa
Resort in downtown Palm Springs, owned and operated by the Agua Caliente
Tribe of Cahuilla Indians. Objects in this exhibition—in particular, The
Chief, a 1936 slot machine – concretizes ways to think about recognizing
and renegotiating the past. As a nostalgic object, The Chief both offers a
generalized and stereotypical working of "the Indian" as a site for
projected history, and as a confirmation of the present. As an
affirmation of sovereignty, The Chief references the Agua Caliente Tribe
of Cahuilla Indians as able to both own and display this object in the
lobby of their own spa and resort, an institution connected to (and partly
made possible by) a sovereign nation status claimed and verified through
the expression and negotiation of inherited political and cultural

'CultureLab': Blurring boundaries between
Museum/Storage/Laboratory/Classroom at the Haffenreffer Museum of
Anthropology, Brown University

Emily Stokes-Rees and Steven Lubar, Brown University

Over the past few decades, American university anthropology museums and
anthropology departments have moved in opposite directions. The strengths
of museums – material culture, archaeological and traditional ethnographic
collections, outreach to broad audiences – are increasingly uninteresting
and irrelevant to many anthropologists, whose research has evolved to
focus more on the social life of modern, urban societies and issues of

And so, with faculty and students using museum collections less and less,
the anthropology museum must redefine and remake itself, and re-engage its
audiences, or risk obsolescence. They must find new ways to connect to the
university missions of teaching and learning. They must expand their
contacts, connections, and influence within anthropology and across the

This paper describes that transition at Brown University's Haffenreffer
Museum of Anthropology - a two-year effort attempting to reinvigorate the
museum, to make it "Brown's teaching museum." The museum hired new staff
to focus on a much broader set of university connections; changed its
exhibit style to involve more students and faculty, and to cover more
subjects; and, most importantly, reworked part of its exhibit area into a
new space called 'CultureLab', a combination open storage, seminar room,
and material culture laboratory, an innovative space which blurs the
boundaries between traditional museum exhibition, storage, and lab, and
which challenges us to re-think the contemporary role of the university

Marketing New Nationalisms: Patriotic Identities Within and Beyond
Museological Borders in the People's Republic of China

Cory Willmott, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville

In China, heritage collecting has a long history among the elite landed
gentry and members of monastic communities. Public museums, however, did
not appear until the rise of Chinese nationalism, and the adoption of
Western educational models, during the first half of the twentieth
century. The proliferation of public institutions devoted to the
collection, study, and display of heritage items on Western museological
principles was spurred on by the unearthing of ancient archeological sites
as a consequence of accelerated construction and public works projects.
From the 1950s until the 1980s, many of these heritage sites, artifacts,
and cultural institutions languished in neglect, or were actively
destroyed. Since the early 1990s, however, national economic
liberalization programs have focused on exhibitory modernity both as a
strategy for inspiring national patriotism at home, and for gaining
legitimacy abroad as an economically modern nation-state.
Simultaneously, regional authorities have invested in representational
practices as a means of marketing local culture. Both central and
regional exhibitory practices stimulate foreign and domestic tourism. In
both contexts, museological principles have spilled over into the
seemingly opposed realms of spiritual and economic public spheres, as well
as into domestic spaces. This paper compares case studies of contemporary
Chinese museums in Beijing, the capital, and in Sichuan Province. It
likewise examines museological representations in temples, historic towns,
and marketplaces in both locations. It thereby sheds light on museum
praxis in the context of tensions in emerging Chinese nationalisms among
economic ideologies as well as among diverse regions and ethnic groups.

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