Friday, 21 October 2016




View from outside NMAAHC on Opening Day Photo: Kendra Campbell
There's a new kid on the block at the Smithsonian.  

As an emerging museum professional and as a black woman I relished the opportunity to be part of the massive welcome wagon that celebrated the opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) in Washington D.C. last month. 

If you haven’t already planned your trip to NMAAHC to introduce yourself, here’s why you should:

This kid has a house full of really neat stuff.  The NMAAHC collection is as diverse as it is comprehensive. The 37 000 item collection includes objects such as a 19th century slave cabin from South Carolina, a Jim Crow era railroad passenger car as well as shards of glass from the 16th Street Baptist church. Each object demonstrates the dynamism of the Black experience in America. The collection is like nothing I have seen before, and yet I was most impressed by the way NMAAHC collaborated with other museums, private collectors and community members in a nationwide collecting campaign, "Save Our African American Treasures." This initiative is truly indicative of the kind of museum NMAAHC is and what it aims to do. 

This kid tells amazing stories, including some you probably haven’t heard before.
 Not only has NMAAHC brought stories often relegated to the periphery and placed them in the centre, they have also interpreted them in a way that is accessible and inclusive.  

Exploring the Neighbourhood Record Store in the Musical Crossroads exhibit Photo: Kendra Campbell
My absolute favourite exhibition has to be the Lunch Counter interactive in the Defending Freedom, Defining Freedom exhibit. Adjacent to a Greensboro, North Carolina sit-in stool is a large interactive counter. Visitors are invited to sit and learn about African-Americans resistance and the struggle for full citizenship. Entering this space and seeing this powerful image of a busy lunch counter and hearing the dialogue was a highlight of my visit.  A seat at the table, indeed.
Exploring a Tradition of Activism in the Making the Way Out of No Way Exhibit Photo : Kendra Campbell
This kid is a really great cook. The entire visitor experience, including the eats, is steeped in Black history. The NMAAHC restaurant, Sweet Home Café, provides an incredible dining experience for visitors.  The café contains four stations each representing a different geographic area of African American culture. Come hungry! 

This kid is excited to meet you! Much has been said about the historical significance of this museum for all Americans. I would also add that this museum is important to Canadians. The two national narratives are connected and further enrich our understanding of the past. There is some truly innovative and important work going on at NMAAHC and as of September 24, 2016 the invitation is open. Won’t you say hello?

Thursday, 20 October 2016




Halloween is for many people their favourite holiday, especially if you are an American. However, despite Mr. Trump already winning this year’s best costume competition, competing as an impression of a presidential candidate, let’s look at the history of Halloween and some of the best (and worst) costumes throughout history.

The Halloween as we know it today is a relatively new manifestation of the once religious holiday, however the history of the day goes back centuries and is a manifestation of Pagan, Celtic, Gaelic, Roman and old Catholic traditions.


Dating back to between 800-600 B.C.E., it was a time when French Gauls and Celtics ruled. Historically, October 31st was referred to as the holiday of Samhain, meaning “summer’s end”, and was the end of the Celtic calendar, marking the end of summertime and the beginning of winter. 

During this period when the natural world and harvest died, and winter’s sleep began, the Celtics believed the veil between the world of the living and the world of the dead was the thinnest. Some believed this was the time when spirits would drift through from the afterlife to the land of the living. To protect themselves from evil spirits, the Celts would dress themselves in all manner of feathers, rags, and earthly materials to disguise themselves, giving heritage to all those in costume today.


As the Roman’s began to invade Gaul and Britain in the first century B.C.E. their own holidays of harvest, called Pomona celebrated on November 1st, and later their celebrations of the dead, named Parentalia and Feralia and historically held in the month of February, were incorporated into the holiday. Today in the Roman Catholic church November 1st is call to All Saints Day, All Hallows, or Hallowmas, and is a day to honor the saints of the Christian tradition.


Prior to the arrival of Halloween to North America, Halloween developed within the churches of Europe right up to the 18th century. It was a time to ward off spirits and pay homage to the dead. The Spanish would visit graveyards and graves with holy water or milk, which evolved into a time to honour the dead in Mexico with Dia de los Muertos. The English believed fire warded off evil and would burn fires in graveyards and burn many candles for protection, where as the French would direct their prayers that day specifically to the recently past.

The Victorian era gave rise to the participation of children, and around this time period the religious and folk lore roots were downplayed in place of new traditions of community organized parades and haunted houses – another indication of the Victorians fascination with death. It is believed that the Irish were the first to begin the tradition of trick-or-treating, and in the 1940s it became popular in North America to over look the normally disliked behaviour of begging in order for children of the neighbourhood to go around collecting candy. Children would go door-to-door performing mimes, a song, or some form of talent in exchange for candy, however if children did not have a talent they would threaten to perform a trick on the house instead of they did not receive candy.



With the high influx of Irish immigrants during the mid-1800s the traditions of Celtic Sanhain spread throughout North America under the new name of All Hallows Eve, and the rest of North America enthusiastically accepted Halloween, officially recognizing it as a holiday in 1911. As films and the cult of Hollywood grew in popularity and volume at the beginning of the 20th century, terrifying monsters like the Wolf-Man, Count Dracula, ghosts, witches, and all manner of terrifying monsters gave rise to American’s dressing in scary costumes. However, it was not until the 1930s when enterprising businesses realized the market for costumes. This meant anything made prior was home made. Mother’s would make paper-mâché masks for their children, and designs for Halloween costumes were printed in woman’s magazines for several decades. It often lead to such terrifying costumes such as these.


As time has moved on, costumes became more varied and less frightening, however the trend of dressing up as film or pop culture references has not faded in the past 100 years. This year’s projected most popular costumes are likely to be: superheroes, princesses, Pokemon, present presidential candidates, and Game of Thrones characters to name a few.

Despite the popularity of American Halloween celebrations, there are many other ways Halloween is celebrated globally.


Germans believe to protect themselves from evil spirits they hide all the knives around their home so no evil spirits can do them harm.

The French Catholic Church refused to acknowledge the holiday because of it’s Pagan roots until the mid-1990s when the act of "La Fete D'Halloween” was approved. Children do not go house-to-house but instead store-to-store collecting candy, flowers and money to decorate tombstones.

The Swedish the holiday is referred to as "Alla Helgons Dag". Children get a full week off school to prepare and celebrate for the holiday, and adults have shorter days at work.

Mexicans light candles, parties, and picnics on the graves of their loved ones to make sure they 
continue to be included in the family. They will dance in a circle holding hands, always leaving a spot free for those who have passed to be able to join in.

Belgium is the origin of the superstition that is unlucky to have a black cat cross your path, enter a home or travel by ship. Therefore, they must all stay inside all day, and light candles to honor the dead.

England is the source of the famous Jack-o-Lantern. There’s a myth of a man named Jack who was so evil he was rejected by heaven and hell and doomed to roam the earth for all eternity with nothing but a carved turnip for a head. Most North Americans know this story as the Disney version of Ichabold and Mr. Toad. Historically English children would carve out turnip heads as their candy buckets and would go trick-or-treating with it.

However you celebrate Halloween, whether for religious reasons or just for fun, stay safe this year and try not to hit that sugar crash too hard.


Wednesday, 19 October 2016




Happy Halloween everyone! Well...almost. With the leaves changing colour, we are coming closer to one of my most beloved occasions to celebrate, Halloween. For this edition of What's Happening Wednesdays we will take a look at five Halloween themed events happening this month at heritage sites and museums around Toronto.

Let's do the time warp this Halloween by checking out events at five heritage sites and museums. Source.

1. Legends of Horror, Casa Loma

 Legends of Horror, is on now at Casa Loma. Source.

On now through Halloween, Legends of Horror at Casa Loma takes visitors through a self-guided walk from the lower grounds through the bowels of the castle. Along the path theatrical performances bring to life characters from horror stories. With Dracula as your guide, you travel at your own pace for 1.5km through an immersive tale of the search for love and immortality.

When: On now through October 31st.
Where: Casa Loma, Entrance-Davenport Rd. and Walmer Rd. 
Cost: $40 in advance, $45 at the door.
Ages: Children 13 and under must be accompanied by an adult. Parental discretion is advised.
Learn more:

2. Halloween Extravaganza, Bata Shoe Museum

Children making crafts last year at the Bata Shoe Museum's Halloween Extravaganza. Source.

Back again this year is the Bata Shoe Museum's Halloween Extravaganza. Drop by to decorate Halloween cookies, make crafts and play iSpy in the museum.

When: Saturday October 29th and Sunday October 30th. Activities until 4pm.
Where: Bata Shoe Museum
Cost: Included with admission. Children who come in costume get in free!
Ages: Perfect for children aged 3-12
Learn More:

3. Halloween Hootenanny, Black Creek Pioneer Village

Black Creek Pioneer Village hosts their Halloween Hootenanny this October. Source.

Black Creek Pioneer Village's Halloween Hootenanny boasts a variety of Halloween activities at their 1800's pioneer village. Among the many events you can enjoy decorating pumpkins, stage performances, a haunted maze and trick-or-treating among the historic buildings!

Where: Black Creek Pioneer Village
When: 11am - 4:30pm; Saturday October 22nd, Sunday October 23rd, Saturday Oct. 29th, Sunday October 30th
Learn More:

4. Spirit Walk, Mackenzie House

Mackenzie House, Toronto. Source. 
 Mackenzie House's Spirit Walk takes visitors on a guided tour to some of Toronto's reportedly haunted buildings and finishes the tour back at Mackenzie House where you can hear about ghosts associated with the building.

Where: Mackenzie House
When: Saturday October 29th, 7pm
Cost: $12.50 + tax; tickets must be purchased in advance.
Ages: Not recommended for children under 8.
Learn More:

5. Haunted High Park, Colborne Lodge

A tour guide illuminates a tombstone during a past Haunted High Park tour. Source.
    Colborne Lodge once again hosts its Haunted High Park tour. Hear ghostly tales associated with the grounds of High Park on your nighttime tour and learn about Victorian funeral and mourning rituals while inside historic Colborne Lodge. Two versions of the event are available: the adult & teen version and the families & children version.

Where: Colborne Lodge
When: Adult & Teen: 7:30pm - 9pm, Friday October 21st, Friday October 28th and Saturday 
            October 29th
            Families and Children: 6:30pm - 7:30pm or 8pm - 9pm, Saturday October 22nd
Cost:   Pre-registration required.
           Adult & Teen: $20 + tax
           Families and Children: adults $15 + tax, children (8-12yrs) $7.50 + tax
Ages: Adult & Teen: Teens 13-16 years old must be accompanied by an adult. 
           Families and Children: Not recommended for children under 8 years old; children must be
          accompanied by an adult and adults must be accompanied by a child.
Learn More:

Happy Halloween! Go Jays Go! Photo by the author.

These are just five of the many Halloween events happening at local heritage sites and museums this October. Please share other Halloween events in the comments below! Have a safe and happy Halloween everyone!


Tuesday, 18 October 2016




If you're a selective Luddite like me, you've probably also spent time arguing with your friends over the validity of printed books and physical archives. Even though I own an e-reader and am fairly obsessed with my mobile devices, I would still rather be able to open a book and hold a photograph without using technology as a proxy.

That being said, I'm a huge fan of the New York Public Library project Biblion: The Boundless Library. The NYPL has carefully combed through their archives and curated two online exhibitions centered around the 1939-1940 World's Fair and Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. You can access both collections through your PC, but they are really meant to be downloaded as apps.

The app design is gorgeous and interactive in really unique ways, including different interfaces for portrait and landscape views. But the real treat is the obvious love the library staff has for the source material. They knew the material (culture) inside and out, and were therefore able to choose the perfect complimentary pieces for each section.

A mechanical dog to usher in the 1940s

Complimentary is the key word. Since Biblion is so clearly a passion project, the right pieces had to be selected to represent the curator's vision, but that in no way makes any other archive less valid. We save the ephemera not because we are obsessed with stuff. Yes, we are a culture than can veer into compulsive hoarding a little too often, but the tangible remnants of our past have a way of rooting us back in the present. Without material culture we are tangential; we focus too much on what could be because we cannot properly remember what was.

Browsing through Biblion is like listening to a themed playlist of your favourite songs from different artists. It really hits the spot sometimes, but it won't replace your albums. I'd love to pore over the real archives one day, but in the mean time I won't reject your mix-tape, NYPL. It means you like me.

Monday, 17 October 2016




For as long as I can remember, I have been obsessed with history, especially the history of World War II. So, it is only suitable that for my inaugural contribution to Musings' “Walk of Fame," I pay tribute to my inexplicable passion and take a walk down memory lane. In 2013, I had the opportunity to travel through parts of Europe, in which one of my stops was Warsaw, Poland. I happened to be in Warsaw on the first of September for the 74th anniversary of the start of WWII (you can imagine, the history geek inside of me was hyperventilating).

While I was there, I visited the Warsaw Uprising Museum (a.k.a. Warsaw Rising Museum). Opened in 2004, the museum is dedicated to the operation led by the Polish Home Army between August and October 1944 against the occupying German forces in an attempt to liberate the city (there's a history lesson in one sentence). Now, as a Museum Studies student, I look back and appreciate my experience so much more! The museum is filled with a variety of historical and interactive objects about the Uprising, but also about life before and after the battle, covering Poland's immediate postwar occupation by the Soviets. The museum tower is one of its highlights, overlooking Freedom Park, where a memorial wall is erected engraved with the names of insurgents who died during the Uprising.

The Warsaw Uprising Museum's exterior, a former tram power station. Source
Most fascinating for me are the different sections of the museum that simulate life in Warsaw during WWII, such as displays of underground bunkers and city streets, while “battle sounds" play throughout the museum's speakers, transporting me back to the 1944 Uprising. Visitors did not need to follow a strict order while exploring the exhibits, which contributed to an “authentic" experience of the Uprising. Surrounded by brick walls and floors, observing objects such as uniforms and weapons, and hearing the sounds of weaponry and rubble gave a sense of chaos and anxiety, but led to an effective and memorable visit.

The small screen plays footage of the Warsaw Ghetto. Notice the incorporation of technology and objects with the brick wall. Photo: Julia Zungri

Clearly, I could go on and on about this museum. Instead, I'll describe three notable aspects of the museum that can be added to Musings' “Walk of Fame."

1. “Little Insurrectionist"

This image of a boy soldier is a national symbol in Poland, representing child soldiers who fought for the Uprising. The statue is one of the first objects visitors see and another is also located outside of the museum on a city street. A miniature figure is sold at museum and souvenir shops (I even picked one up myself). On the Uprising's anniversary, the city's monument is adorned with flowers and the Polish flag, often with the letters PW - an abbreviation for “Polish Army."

Statue of the “Little Insurrectionist." Photo: Julia Zungri

2. The Pianist

I'm sure we all remember the award-winning film, The Pianist, which told the true story of a Polish-Jew's experience who witnessed the Warsaw Ghetto and Warsaw Uprisings. This exhibit pays tribute to Władysław Szpilman (played by Adrien Brody) with a depiction of his hiding place in a war-torn apartment, looking onto the destruction in the streets. Although I watched the film when I was quite young, it helped spark my passion for learning about WWII and the Holocaust and my fascination with the ways popular culture and institutions depict these periods of history. Interestingly, the museum incorporates a great deal of Polish-Jewish history in regards to the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising and its connections to the Warsaw Uprising.

The photo in the frame is of Szpilman. The use of brick and rubble is common throughout the museum, contributing to its “authentic" appearance. Photo: Julia Zungri

3. Digital Reproduction (shout out to MSL2325!)

During my visit, I had the opportunity to watch a short video, “City of Ruins," in IMAX 3D, which showed a simulated version of a plane flying over Warsaw in 1945. Click here for the trailer (yes, trailer) of the video. As one of the last exhibits, I already explored the majority of the museum, learning about life before, during, and after the Uprising. With this knowledge (and emotional connection) in mind, viewing footage of the war's physical destruction to the city provided more than a sense of looking, but also of feeling.

The Warsaw Uprising is still very much commemorated by Polish citizens and embedded in Polish culture and history, as can be seen with videos of the city standing for a moment of silence on the first of every August, referred to as “W-hour." Here is a link to a video of 2014's W-hour (it'll surely give you the chills), in which you can see the Warsaw Uprising Museum (0:34) and the statue of the Little Insurrectionist (1:34).

From observing the museum and its visitors, I got a sense that this space is essential for people with a national, ancestral, and cultural connection to Poland's past. For someone interested in history and/or museums, this is an intriguing place to examine how a nation tries to remember a troubled past through a museum space. The Warsaw Uprising Museum does not tackle a topic that visitors would look upon with a smile, but it provides them with an explanation and a record of history. Sometimes, the latter is more needed than the former.

For all of you historical museum lovers, next stop: Warsaw?

Sources Consulted:

Friday, 14 October 2016




Welcome to this brand new Musings column! The inspiration for this column struck me when I was sitting in on a meeting discussing how the iSchool has trouble staying in touch with their alumni. I thought, what better way to get back in touch with alumni than to feature them in a Musings column?!

This first column will be an introduction to some of the MMSt alumni that are out there making us proud. In the upcoming installments, I will be speaking to alumni and picking their brains about how they got where they are today. 

While I can be a little bit of a luddite when it comes to technology, I did figure out how to create a map with Google where I could ‘pin’ alumni based on their current work location. Check out the map below, or at this link. I will continue to update this map throughout the year, as I meet and discover new alumni. And if you know any alumni, please let me know so I can add them to the map!

As you can see, our alumni are spread across Canada, the U.S., and even the world. They are also working in a diversity of fields – some are in museums, but many are in the broader field of arts, culture, and heritage.

Jason Harvey (MMSt 2012). Source.
What’s incredible about our program is that it provides us with skills that are transferable to many different sectors and jobs. As you click through the alumni featured in the map, you'll see that they work as professors, collections managers, consultants, educators, executive directors, curators, and so many more.The possibilities really are endless!

In next month’s column we’ll be hearing from Jason Harvey (MMSt 2012), a grad who currently works at a national historic site in the City of Ottawa portfolio of museums.

In the meantime, check out all the alumni ‘pinned’ to the map, follow them (and me!) on Twitter, and let me know who else is out there!

Thursday, 13 October 2016




Shamelessly, with Hallowe'en around the corner, I thought it was apropos to highlight one of my favourite participatory museum activities: dress up stations! They are remarkably interactive, like Hallowe'en costumes, they offer up a rare chance to become embody army men of many ages, pioneers, pirates, Medieval and Victorian ladies alike. The power of role play as a guiding metaphor appears in other programming (see: character driven audio guides, persona tickets at the Titanic exhibition in Las Vegas, and most of the biodiversity gallery at the ROM). But costumes in informal learning setting tap into a visceral immersion that other senses strive, but often fail, to reach.

My own experience with dress up stations has primarily been in history exhibitions, and mostly before social media; particularly notable are the Victorian undergarments at the V&A and the Russian imperial military overcoat and hats at the National Art Museum of Norway (special exhibition, its a long story). Neither of which will be shared here. My most recent experience with dress up stations have been at the Bata Shoe Museum. There are two sets of shoes that patrons can try, the first are tiny, adult shoes made in miniature for kindergarten children. The second are brought out for Standing Tall: the Curious History of Men in Heels. Pointed at toe and heel, these patten red pumps are men's size 10-13. I was privileged enough to see grown men teetering across the tiles; first attempts at heels are always … fawn-like.

This dress up asks visitors to step into a very near reality, one that is simply a arbitrary gendered line away from their own. But, clothing can transport farther. Especially for historically accurate recreations, the garments in dress up stations are evocative of a particular way of moving through the world. The physical sensation of a corset being done up is not only demonstrates that its not that uncomfortable, but also that dressing for the woman that wore these was best accomplished as a team, a very different manner than getting dressed is now. The sheer weight and flex of a crinoline makes it dangerous to with the freedom and ease that our more casual present allows.

Frankly, if clothes maketh the man, there is little more immersive than seeing yourself in the clothes of another. Dressing up presents the opportunity to imagine the world differently, to expand out from the body and imagine the setting that these clothes are made for. They materiality of clothing and the rituals associated access pre-reflexive memory, one that is heavily tied to a conceptions of self and how that self is performed. Costuming, and the funny places outside of the everyday that allow for it, present an opportunity to shift slightly outside that.

Okay, so, I would like to end there, but I can’t. Because well, my previous argument is rooted in a basic assumption that is rapidly loosing traction. The privileged status of the museum as a reflective space is rapidly eroding. The experience I describe requires a dissonance from the everyday that becomes difficult as the hyper-performative modes of identity production become commonplace. Namely, selfies. Yes, sorry. The capture of novelty changes typified by digital culture changes the haptic character of costuming, and as the focus shifts from a internal negotiation into a an outward facing performance, the collapsing distance of space and time that I was hoping for is pretty much blown apart.

And I can’t touch on this topic without mentioning the Museum of Art in Boston and their recent controversy. The short summary is that the Museum of Art in Boston started a dress up program called “Kimono Wednesdays” around a replica of a kimono in Monet’s La Japoinaise. Report indicate that there was an initial loss of context was further compounded by the lack of context in resulting social media posts.

for example. Photo credit: Amber Ying, Twitter via Artnet News

There were protests and counter-protests in the gallery, the program was downgraded to a hands-on but not full dressing station, and inspired a MFA panel discussion six months after. The painting and the kimono (as a wearable item), then went on a very successful Japanese tour. This example demonstrates some of the conceptual limitations of costuming. The multi-layered history, interwoven with a layer of satire multiple narratives of imperialism and racism, did not translate well. This speaks to limitations of type of experience. While it is powerful and evocative, dressing and garments cannot be completely stripped of there contemporary meanings. This is part of the power of dress, but also limits its ability to change thinking; it is habitual activity, so if novelty is an inherent part of the experience, it lack a certain subtlety.

On that cheerful warning, I’m going to start on my Hallowe’en costume. Have a spooky October.

Works Referenced
Goffman, Erving. (1959) The presentation of self in everyday life. Harmondsworth : Penguin.

Twigg, Julia and Christina Buse (2013). Dress, dementia and the embodiment of identity. Dementia. 12(3). p.326To-336