Thursday, February 19, 2009

Basements and Roofs

President Obama signed the stimulus bill at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science yesterday.

Man. There is no part of that sentence I don't love. Every part of it! Subject, verb, object, prepositional phrase, adverb. They're all just inherently awesome.

Anyway, the reason (and relevancy) of this post is that the Denver Museum is very comparable to the Science Museum of Minnesota. I really like that Obama chose not only a museum, and one that is looking toward the future, but a moderately sized, regional museum. It has such grassroots feel. However, beyond symbolism, the question of the role of the museum in this exchange is pretty interesting. I'm sure they didn't approach the Obama administration about it - why would they presume that he might consider it an option? But collections based museums like DMNS, SMM, the Field Museum, and the Smithsonian generally, by nature, focus on the past. While they can then orient that focus towards the future, such as using biological specimens to talk about changing environment and extinction, the basis upon which that system of knowledge, as communicated in exhibits, is founded remains the past.

But the latest developments in museology, particularly at places like DMNS and SMM that operate on more limited budgets, instead focus on the new, the revolutionary, the future. The professed claim that Obama chose the museum because it had solar panels on the roof is a perfect example of this. Collections are expensive, boring, and pointless, right? The future isn't in the basements of museums, but on their roofs!

I'm not saying that museums of this sort don't have a role, because they do. But there's a big difference between a collections museum and a science center. And, unfortunately, many formerly collections based museums are shifting to science center, which means collections themselves, and access to them, are rapidly deteriorating, nor are they being developed. And that ain't good.

Monday, February 16, 2009

My Funny Valentine

In honor of Valentine's Day weekend (I wanted to write this post yesterday, but life got in the way), I will take this opportunity to reflect upon the major love of my life: archaeology.

In the ubiquitous 25 Things meme on Facebook, I posted "I more or less consider myself married to archaeology, and I am exceedingly grateful that I found an occupation I love, seem to be capable of doing, and which will pay my bills." As I've watched three very dear friends get married in the last year alone, I've come to realize that I, like them, have been lucky enough to find a soul mate too. Sound like a strange analogy? Let's call archaeology "Bob" for the rest of this post. Allow me to tell you our love story.

Bob and I met in college, sophomore year. I quickly found that I preferred him to all other men, and would rush through all my homework so we could spend time together. However, even after a month together in Israel the summer between junior and senior year, when we discovered that we could be together for sustained amounts of time, I wasn't sure I was ready for a full, life-long commitment. We talked about moving in together for a couple years, perhaps at Cornell, but he didn't have the financial means to support me and I wasn't ready to move.

Like all couples after college, we had to work to redefine our relationship outside of an academic, collegiate environment. I still wasn't sure if I was in for the long haul, but after exploring other options, I realized Bob was vastly superior to them. Alas, I was ready to spend our lives together, but my period of waffling in college made him unwilling to extend the same commitment to me. So we moved in together, in Minnesota, where I managed to prove to him and the rest of the world that I was serious, and we belonged together.

Bob and I spend evenings, weekends, and vacations together. I don't get tired of him; in fact, the more I learn about him, the more intrigued I become. When I'm feeling crummy about something, Bob always manages to make me feel better. Sure, our relationship is far from perfect - we occasionally have different interests, so I have to do things I don't enjoy in order to spend time with him, and sometimes I resent that he takes time away from my friends and family. But when he "proposed" a week and a half ago, I knew it's all been worth it. I don't know exactly where Bob and I will land, but I know we'll be together, and he'll take care of and support me for a long time. So yesterday, Bob and I hung out in the library for a few hours, where I remembered that I'm the luckiest girl in the world to have found him. He's just so complex and interesting.

That maybe turned out a bit weirder than I thought it would.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Second post of the day!

I know, two posts in one day is completely unprecedented here. But I just saw this, and I couldn't help but share it with you, my faithful readers.

Fox News reports on "archaeologist" Randall Price's search for Noah's Ark in Turkey

See, this is why people think that archaeology isn't real science! Randall Price, for the record, is affiliated with Jerry Falwell's Liberty University. I'm not going to get into all the issues - there's a nice blog entry here which goes into nice detail, including grammatical errors on the guy's website - but, if nothing else.... wasn't Noah's Ark made out of wood? Wood doesn't preserve for 3,000+ years unless it's in a bog or totally dry environment, and even that is far from a guarantee. Frozen in a glacier is not going to cut it. Unless we're going to start attributing divine miracles here, which, hey, might as well be the case.

Also, the Fox's Archaeology Center is about to become mandatory reading for me. At the top of the list? "Mythic Birthplace of Zeus Possibly Found." Actually, almost all the headlines read "likely found," "possibly found," or - my personal favorite - "almost certainly found." Endless fun!

The Choices We Make

It's been a relatively quiet week after the flurry of excitement that was a week ago. I had a bit of a panicked weekend, as happens every now and again, when I became really anxious about getting things done. The latest stressor is the publishable chapter I have to write for a class this semester. My adviser is teaching a class on "Artifact Analysis," the whole point of which is to finish the chapter on the weaving implements from the same site my beads were from. But because too many people signed up for the class to work on just the weaving implements, we divided into "squads" and I am essentially in charge of the weaving implements team. The trouble is, trying to find a time when four busy people with incredibly different lifestyles can meet to even begin to decide how to do this project is impossible. And I'm concerned that the rest of my group isn't taking this as seriously as I am, considering this to be the same as a project or paper they'd write for any other class. I, however, take the responsibility of this much more seriously. Not only will our names be attached to this thing for all time, but people's impressions of the site and of this body of material will be strongly colored by the interpretation we give to it this semester. It took me almost a year to finish the beads chapter. Becoming familiar with the extant scholarship and the assemblage of finds, not to mention organizing and writing it all up, takes a significant amount of time. How we will accomplish that in a mere 2 1/2 months is beyond me, especially when we can barely find a time to meet. And because I am the graduate student in the group, as well as being the person that I am, I'm afraid all that responsibility will fall to me. It will require major effort on my part anyway to trust other people and not totally control the project.

Anyway, all that responsibility came down on my head Friday afternoon, and I spent just about all weekend finishing up the beads paper before I submitted it this morning. Only about a quarter of that time was on my part - the rest was dealing with an extant manuscript about the stone beads that had incomplete citations, notes instead of sentences, and incorrect information. Fun times.

It was unfortunate that this work compunction came about in the midst of a weekend with a lot of other activities. I missed several events because I was working. And while this isn't totally unusual or unprecedented, excepting major events for which I plan ahead to take the entire day "off", it seemed harder and more isolating this time around. Maybe it's because I thought this semester would be lighter. Maybe it's because now that I'm into a PhD program, I'm less focused and motivated. Maybe, just maybe, it's because deep down inside somewhere, I prefer my work to my social life, but refusing 3-4 invitations in succession because "I have to work" starts to seem like hiding after awhile.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

"I am very pleased to tell you..."

It's been an exciting week so far in the life of this archaeologist. I gave my talk on "Beads and Beadmaking in the Ancient World" to the Upper Midwest Bead Society on Monday night, and it went fantastically. I was marginally nervous about it because their talks generally consist of how-to-make-jewelry sorts of things and mine was certainly much more "academic." Also, they paid me $50, so I felt some compunction to not completely suck. But they laughed at my jokes, asked lots of questions, and gave me some really great ideas about a couple pieces. One lady came up to me afterward and said "I'm an engineer, and it was so nice to actually have a talk with actual scientific sorts of information." They've already asked me if I can return next year, but....

I won't be here, because I found out today that I was admitted to the University of Michigan Interdepartmental Program in Classical Art and Archaeology! Michigan has been a beacon of archaeological achievement to me for years. It's been my dream program and my first choice. Two years ago, they rejected me. But today, today, they accepted me. The one downside is that this admittance comes with the slight caveat of no financial aid. They determine packages after an "informal" interview and visit process the first weekend of March. And, no money would mean no PhD for Kate. But I'm feeling really good about it, and the most difficult part has certainly been surmounted. (My chances now increase from the 1 in 16 they admitted to probably something like 5 in 8 who will recieve financial aid.) It also bodes really well for the University of Pennsylvannia, which does give aid to everyone admitted. Months ago, my advisor assured me that I'd get into Penn but she wasn't sure about Michigan. Yeah baby!

Monday, February 2, 2009

Rage, sing of the rage

Spring semester has now passed the two week mark, and I'm cautiously optimistic that I will not actively loathe any of my classes (cough, Prehistoric Greek Art, cough) and may actually enjoy a few, which would be a nice change of pace. I have, however, been exceedingly grumpy about Greek and Latin, since I somehow forgot that the beginning of the semester is the most challenging and time consuming in language classes due to a combination of forgetting things over break and adjusting to new authors with different writing styles and vocabularies. For example: our first Greek assignment, the first 20 lines of the Iliad, probably took me about three hours. Today's assignment of 30+ lines took less than two hours. And while assignments may get marginally larger (perhaps 40-50 lines), I'll keep getting faster and will likely be able to get it done in about an hour. (The same holds for Livy.) The trouble is, I always remember the end of the previous semester, in which I blaze quickly through the readings, and it's obnoxious when things take longer than I think they should.

I also tend to get grumpier about languages taking up a lot of time when I feel like I have better, more productive things to be doing with said time. (This goes back to my long-standing resentment of having to learn languages at all. I will never ever be as good at Latin or Greek as other people around me. In the future, the most I'll have to do is read an inscription or quickly check a translation; anything more substantial I could pawn off on those who enjoy it more.) So, me struggling to read the Iliad accomplishes nil in the grand scheme of the world. I'm not going to get anything more from it than the zillion other people who have read it before me. Working on my own research and projects feels so much more productive to me. I'm doing something new, something unique, something which adds to our accumulated knowledge rather than takes from or duplicates it. This feeling has been particularly acute in the last couple weeks, as I'm trying to finish the last draft of the beads paper and put together a talk for the Upper Midwest Bead Society.

There are a lot of parentheticals in this post. Clearly, I've been spending too much time reading Claire's blog.