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2015 Katzenberger Projects

Project 1) Damage to Cultural Heritage in Syria and Iraq: Preparing for an Exhibit

Office of the Undersecretary of History, Art, and Culture

Our department is seeking an intern with an interest in Middle Eastern art history or cultural heritage. The project involves the preliminary development of an exhibition centered on the destruction of cultural heritage in the Middle East, which will be done in collaboration with the Smithsonian Institution, the University Of Pennsylvania Museum Of Archaeology and Anthropology, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

The proposed exhibition, Damage to Cultural Heritage in Syria and Iraq, follows the well-known 2008 exhibit Catastrophe! The Looting and Destruction of Iraq’s Past, which originated at the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago and toured to other major museums in the United States, Canada United Kingdom, Ireland, Japan, and Netherlands. The updated exhibit will be planned as a touring exhibit. In addition to being informative about the level of destruction, it also aims to capture the reactions of people inside Syria and Iraq and the heroic efforts that are being made to protect cultural heritage.

Guided and supervised by staff and professionals, the intern will learn about all facets of developing Damage to Cultural Heritage in Syria and Iraq—from conceptualization, to fundraising, to exhibition design. The intern will participate in the process of artifact selection and related questions of object relevance and provenance. He or she will assist in the review of relevant museum inventories and collections and also learn about the process of completing institutional loan agreements. The intern will also contribute to the development of the exhibition catalog.

Through the research and development of this exhibition, the intern will become familiar with the roles and work within the Office of the Under Secretary of History, Art, and Culture. He or she will work alongside professionals at the Smithsonian Institution, University of Pennsylvania Museum, and the AAAS, establishing working relationships that will likely last beyond the internship itself. By the conclusion of this internship, the intern will have greater knowledge of what steps are involved in the design and execution of a museum exhibition, the reality of the destruction of culture in the Middle East, and also the roles that museums, such as the Smithsonian Institution, have in the field of cultural heritage preservation.


Project 2) Development of Collections Keywords to Enhance Visitor Experience

Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery

The Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery will soon reach the milestone of making all of its digitized collections records fully available online to the public.

The collections database which will serve this online access has a thesaurus with thousands of keywords. These terms enable accurate search by classification, country, historical period, religion and philosophy and the broad categories of subject matter, imagery and use. Currently there are 2,500 keywords linked to the 41,000 objects for a total of 250,000 individual links.

This system of linked keywords makes it possible to ask the question “what are the Chinese objects made of metal from the Qing dynasty with images of dragons?” phrased simply as “China, Metalwork, Qing dynasty, dragon.” Thesaurus terms assist in querying the data by standardizing terminology, offsetting problems of information display vs. searchability. As direct shortcuts to a wide range of content, they also have the potential to serve as dynamic links between the collections and related areas of the Freer|Sackler’s activities.

So on the occasion of offering all of its collections records online, the Freer|Sackler would like to reexamine its use of these keywords to see where their value can be amplified and improvements be made. More significantly, we are interested in creatively extending their use to the rest of our content—to give visitors online and in the galleries the opportunity to connect what they find of interest to the rest of the collection, our events, programs, and educational opportunities.

The Freer|Sackler would like to extend the opportunity of a Katzenberger Internship to a qualified, motivated candidate who can help us assess and improve the use of these keywords. Candidates should have a background in art history and have good listening and communication skills. They should be interested in using technology to expand access to information and enhance learning. Experience with thesauri is a plus, and familiarity with Wikipedia, Creative Commons, and open source technology would all be helpful.

The work of the internship will first entail comparing the keywords for objects on display in the galleries with the text of their wall labels, noting important differences, overlaps and omissions. Terms for artistic processes and techniques will be a particular focus. Results of the evaluation will be then be reviewed with staff from the Curatorial, Collections, and Public and Scholarly Engagement departments. Terms in use deemed too incidental may be marked for removal, with others identified to be added and linked. The intern will work with the Registrar for Collections Information to help update the thesaurus and its structure as needed.

One of the main goals of the Freer|Sackler’s 2015-2016 Strategic Plan is to enhance the visitor experience. We want to better provide visitors with the means to follow their interests, make discoveries, and explore the collections at a deeper level than is currently possible. For this reason, a key objective is to improve digital access online and in the galleries—and here the keywords can play a strategic role. So the intern will also participate in an investigation into how the use of keywords can be technically extended to allow visitors to access programming, events and other resources based on their interests. The Department of Digital Media and Technology will be building the content management system to utilize centralized terms, and the internship will be a chance to learn about content management in this regard. Since visitors sometimes encounter words and concepts not adequately explained by gallery labels, the internship will also explore the possibility of associating relevant internet resources regarding such topics with the keywords themselves. So the intern will also help during consultative sessions with Educators, Public Affairs, and Scholarly Programs staff, and to work with them to incorporate suggestions from the public.

The Freer|Sackler welcomes the chance to work with a qualified individual to help improve and apply our keywords to all our public offerings. It will be an opportunity to learn about important museum priorities, departmental points-of-view, and their integration along various workflows and existing practices, as well as the role of innovation in merging these concerns within a digital, technical framework.


Project 3) Survey of Historic Seneca Sandstone Buildings for Black Manganese Deposits

Museum Conservation Institute

The intern would survey historic buildings in the Washington, DC, area that were constructed with local red Seneca Creek sandstone and have shiny black manganese-rich deposits.  This is part of a research project on the unusual occurrence of these deposits in a temperate climate, since they more often associated with “desert varnish.”  The deposits have appeared on the Smithsonian Castle (1849-1855) and Enid Haupt Garden Gateposts (1987) during the past 25 years and may be initiated by a recent additive to gasoline.  They appear to grow preferentially on the Seneca sandstone as opposed to other types of building stones.  This sandstone is a characteristic element of the Romanesque style of architecture of the pre-Civil War era, and it is from the same geological formation as the brownstone widely used in urban architecture throughout the Northeast in this period.  Consequently, the results of this research will have application to architectural conservation extending far beyond the Smithsonian itself.

In addition to documenting the current conditions of the buildings, archival research into historic photographs of the buildings would also be a component in order to establish when the black deposits began to form.  The intern would become familiar with Washington’s historic architecture and gain skills in archival research and photography.  Since the ultimate goal is removal or remediation of the black deposits, the intern would also learn about the deterioration and preservation of stone as well as the field of conservation in general.


Project 4) Exhibition on African American art history

Archives of American Art

The Katzenberger intern will contribute to an exhibition about African-American art history in the Archives’ Lawrence A. Fleischman Gallery (in the DWRC). This exhibition is scheduled to open spring 2015, coinciding with the opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture. The goal of the exhibition will be to tell stories of prominent African-American artists with documents such as photographs, correspondence, sketchbooks, and the like. With this in mind, the intern will conduct extensive research in our collections and oral history interviews. The intern will gain a strong understanding of the diversity and depth of American art history as well as hands-on experience with archival materials and practices. Guided by the Curator of Manuscripts, the intern will learn how to identify and contextualize significant primary source documents and oral history excerpts. The intern will assist with the process of getting key documents digitized and formatted for use on the web and in the exhibition. The intern will be encouraged to write blog posts about his/her experience and use social media to share compelling discoveries.


Project 5) Institutional Art and Artist Files Research

Smithsonian Institution Libraries @ Hirshhorn Museum Library

The Hirshhorn Museum Library and the American Art Portrait Gallery Library, Smithsonian Institution Libraries, have ephemeral collections on American and international art institutions. These files are not listed online for art history research. The intern would research these files, discover rare material and write up to 8 blogs on the discoveries. Select treasures would be photographed for the blog and the library web pages.
An online or library exhibition of special items may be possible. The research project will make available to art historians these materials that are now a “hidden” collection.  In addition, the intern will create metadata records to make the files accessible on Smithsonian Collections Search Center and the Libraries database.

The institutional art files are located in the Hirshhorn Museum Library and the American Art Portrait Gallery Library. They are worldwide, including clippings, press releases, posters, brochures, etc. for museums, art galleries, art associations and auction houses.

The intern will have the opportunity to do research at SI Libraries, use research and writing skills to determine highlights of the files, determine Library of Congress Authorized names using metadata to enhance accessibility,  collaborate with different departments within the Libraries (reference, new media), and highlight important art materials that will be valuable to scholars.


Project 6) Women in Imperial Mughal Painting

Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery

This internship project is related to a 2016 exhibition on images of women in Imperial Mughal painting that is planned for the Sackler Gallery. The central object in the exhibition is a 17th-century portrait that was recently identified as the first, and perhaps only, lifetime portrait of Mumtaz Mahal, the empress for whom the Taj Mahal was created. This recently acquired object, which has never been publicly exhibited, invites a reconsideration of when, why and how imperial women became portrait subjects. The iinternship project has two foci:

  • Guided library research on Mughal painting and imperial women’s narratives. The learning objectives include (1) gaining a familarity with the scholarship on this topic and learning to view it critically (2) creating a bibliography of texts written by and about imperial women as well as relevant critical theory readings on representation.
  • Participation in the planning of the exhibition, esp. as related to design, promotion and program development. The learning objective is to gain familarity with the stages of planning and implementing an exhibition.