I’m now a Research Assistant at the Museum of Ontario Archaeology
What will I be doing there? Probably a few different things.
The collections at the Museum of Ontario Archaeology (MOA) are many, and not all of that information is stored in one place. The museum was once known as the Museum of Indian Archaeology (which made me super uncomfortable once I found out) and the collections definitely feel focused on that history. As an RA I have been tasked with a few different projects that will develop a new focus for Sustainable Archaeology, which is now a set of practices and theories rather than a physical space. I have also been asked to create some digital interactivity with their current collections.
The museum was founded out of the University of Western Ontario (UWO) and their main legacy collection was formed by Wilfrid Jury. The museum has recently changed its focus from looking at the collecting, work and life of the Jury’s to the history of the field of Archaeology itself. With these things in mind I began trying to find ways in which I could build an interactive Story Map exhibit for the MOA’s use.
Looking at the amount of material available on Wilfrid Jury, my first thought was to start with those collections. The MOA wants to change some of the narratives they used to focus on but I think it’s important to work with what you have the most of. Jury can be valuable although his language, motivations, and understandings of what the mission of history/archaeology should be are dated and problematic. From what I have read so far, Jury seems to have been passionate about preserving the physical past and understanding the ways in which early settlement and the early formation of Canada occurred. Jury had fascination with ‘Pioneering’ and settlement, in-line with many Canadians of the time. Most of the sites were from early settlement, from the late 1600’s on and had both European and Indigenous inhabitants.
Wilfrid Jury had been an amateur collector with his father, an eloquent way to say that they went to ‘ancient Indian’ territories to dig stuff up. This was something the middle and upper classes from colonial backgrounds did frequently across the globe. I learned while visiting the Oil Springs museum in Lambton County that turn of the century ‘Canadians’ were heavily involved in resource exploitation and ‘collecting’ artifacts from various places around the world. Many who are focused solely in the fields of Archaeology or Museology know that many of the institutions we have today were started at viewing rooms of large collections of these ‘well-traveled’ men.
The beginnings of the MOA were no different, Wilfrid Jury had a need to store his massive collection somewhere. Jury’s relationship as an Archaeology professor at UWO and the Lawson site provided the opportunity to convert that site into the Museum of Indian Archaeology, later the Museum of Indian Archaeology and Pioneer Life, then the Museum of London Archaeology, and finally the Museum of Ontario Archaeology as it is today. Even this change of names is representative of the contemporary work being done to distance institutions from the legacies of ‘collecting’. Deaccessioning problematic collections and returning them to their proper places, collections management policies, database description language- all ways in which these institutions are attempting to open up narratives.
The exhibition space at the MOA has been undergoing changes that reflect this desire to change the narratives of their problematic past. Aside from some of the problematic depictions of pan-Indigenous peoples that remain in the space, some of the transition has already begun. Once there was a replica of Wilfrid Jury’s office, as well as several collection cabinet drawers that talked specifically about that legacy and how Jury transformed from a hobbyist into a professional archaeologist. There have also been updates to the signage around the exhibition space, talking about how this type of heritage work is contested.
Researching this legacy and the way in which Wilfrid rose to the position he held has been a testament to the times. It brought to mind for me the legacy of E.F. Wilson and my work at the Shingwauk site. Wilfrid Jury was a professor of Archaeology at the University of Western Ontario, started the first Archaeology field school in Canada, and had started the Museum of Indian Archaeology at UWO. Working from a background in Residential Schools history and community archival practice, I have to retool my processes to be less forthcoming about my ‘biases’ on colonial power structures and subverted racism. This being a larger institution than the Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre with a mandate that doesn’t exclusively serve the Indigenous communities around it, I know I will have to be cautious about what I say and that whatever I do say will be edited by 10 other people who may not be from this particular background.
I think it is valuable to talk about these dynamics when creating an exhibit. The MOA is currently working from a set of best practices informed by the Sustainable Archaeology program, something vastly different from the Jury days. The Jury journals have language in them that is dated, it has been redacted in some of the previous student assistant blogs but I think it is important to talk about the fact professionals and ‘experts’ called us savages and that was accepted as an academic truth. I think it is important for museums to show growth, even when that calls attention to a problematic past.
The exhibit medium I chose for my first project is Story Maps because of my recent experiences using it. I want to gain more experience with the medium but I also feel that this lends itself well to the large smart screen that is available on the museum exhibition floor. I have two maps in mind for my work, one looking at Wilfrid Jury and the legacy of Archaeology as a practice and the other looking at the locations the MOA collections come from. The Jury focused map will be in the form of a Story Map Journal and the other Story Map will be in the Shortlist format.
The Jury focused Story Map research is based off of the massive collection held at the MOA which includes his handwritten journals as well as field reports. I am hoping to put these sites in chronological order supported by Jury’s journal entries and some field reports for the information on the site itself. To make the connection between what was archaeological practice then and how we critically examine those practices now is something I’m still figuring out. But I think that once the journal takes shape, and it has been reviewed by the Museum director I can start to make those connections in the way the Museum needs.
This map will be large and less detailed than the map I have planned for Jury. This map’s purpose is to be a quick information base on the MOA collections and to give every day visitors an idea of how large everything is behind the scenes. The Shortlist format lays out tabs and within those tabs are individual pins that can be tied to a location with an image and some background text. Depending on which tab is selected it will display what pins are within that tab on the overall map. I chose this layout because I think it would lend itself well to the large smartboard on the exhibition floor. It also does well at breaking up the archaeological sites into categories. If the sites were all displayed at once the map would feel overwhelmed, even if each pin was a different colour. Looking at the number of sites the collections originate from, I wouldn’t have enough colours to differentiate them well enough.
The Shortlist view allows the user to click either directly in the tab menu or click the individual pins on the map. Which provides more accessibility on a large touch-screen. I have been directed to the MOA’s large archaeological library to begin to gather data on sites. For each location pin I would like it to be the approximate site with any relevant field data that can be educationally or contextually helpful (types of artifacts recovered, why the work was done, photographs of either the site or artifacts). I anticipate some challenges in finding digital materials to accompany the site pins. In some cases I might have to just type in the location data, which can be boring to younger audiences.
The value of this Shortlist map is in showcasing the numerous origins of the Museum’s collection, the diversity of the collection, in explaining why excavations begin, and showing how close archaeological sites are to urban life. For many students who visit the museum, they do not understand that artifacts are regularly recovered from unlikely places. Many of us think of urban areas as never having a legacy of Indigenous use but this is simply untrue. Many of the sites we select for suburban villages are the same sites that Indigenous peoples chose. The remains of old villages lie just beneath the surface in rural and northern areas, religious missions long abandoned or resource boom-towns left ghost when industry dried up.
With all this heritage buried throughout Ontario, you think there would be a vested governmental interest in what is found there. However there is surprisingly very little protection for what is recovered from excavation sites. The Ontario Provincial government has proposed a new plan that will make development ‘easier’ in Ontario by allowing municipalities to skip some of the protections outlined in the Planning Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Greenbelt Act. Many have heard about Bill 66 from environmentalists concerned with Greenbelt development and the lack of protections on drinking water, the ominous Section 10. The archaeological community is concerned with what some of these provisions mean for protected heritage sites and development on Indigenous sacred sites because they remove section 3(5) of the Planning Act that gives power to the Provincial Policy Statement (2014).
Archaeologists and developers work from a Provincial Policy Statement that broadly outlines the minimum standards for this work in Ontario. The PPS outlines what should be done in these processes. It doesn’t specify what should be in a plan to make it ethical, sustainable or ecologically safe; it just requires that you have a plan. I assume that plan has to be approved by the Minister for Housing and Development, or a Municipal planning office in accordance with that Policy Statement. Hopefully those people care more about health, safety, food sustainability, and heritage more than money. Unfortunately we know that for the majority who are interested in development or resource extraction, they are mostly concerned with money.
Section 10 of the proposed Bill 66 makes Archaeologists just as nervous as Environmentalists. Fortunately, because of the outcry surrounding the possibility of Greenbelt development this proposed legislation is being pulled by the Provincial government. It is disturbing that this Bill passed the first read, I’m sure a new version of this will be back within the year that specifically ensures the safety of the Greenbelt (to keep voters happy). If you want to know more about the position of the professional Archaeological community on these proposed changes made by Bill 66 check out this Timmins Martelle Heritage Consultants Inc. blog post.
This is where the other part of my RA-ship with the MOA comes in. I will be helping with the development of a new collections storage program at the MOA that uses the best-practices for conservation and ethical management from the Sustainable Archaeology project. Because there is little incentive for those who have artifacts in their collection to store them somewhere safe (not a random storage locker/shipping container) I have been tasked with coming up with some ideas on ways in which the museum can do that.
The MOA had done some research with a consultant on how to make this collections storage a sustainable program that relies very little on grant or government funding. However, it means presenting the benefits for storage costs and finding the quantity of clients needed to keep the program running. The more developers, archaeologists, survey companies, and resource extractors that decide to store with the MOA the more it can support those who need safe storage but do not have the resources.
Collections Storage at the MOA would see artifacts brought in, processed to Sustainable Archaeology standards (boxing and preservation steps), then the client could have these objects digitally processed. The implications this has for Indigenous communities pursuing repatriation efforts is substantial. Because many heritage institutions will not grant communities their ancestral property without a conservation/preservation plan, First Nations are often left with little options. Collections Storage at the MOA is looking to have very clear holdings and collections agreements, these could be set to community’s needs and expectations, including clarity on their ownership.
Working at the Algoma University Archives, there were artifacts being stored there that were not a part of the collection. They were from Missanabie Cree First Nation and the community needed climate controlled storage to preserve what they had. Collections Storage at the MOA has the future potential to provide these services plus more. The use of the digital lab opens up opportunities for the artifacts to be recreated digitally through 3D scan or with a 3D printer. While communities build their infrastructure to support their own museums, libraries and heritage centres Collections Storage can digitize artifacts to make available to the community for teachings and research.
The MOA’s relationships with the local Indigenous communities mean that their policy is informed by members of that board from these territories. Items can be stored in-line with cultural protocols if the community provides a request or a planned ceremony. I also suspect that as the museum gets more involvement from Indigenous clients that their policy will transform as needs present themselves.
The current MOA web site needs to reflect the new changes that have taken place between the institution and the Sustainable Archaeology program, this was another area of interest my supervisor was having me look at. Because of my recent experience in both Digital Research Methods and Digital Public History, I have had some experience now with web development and content generation using WordPress as a medium to host some of that content. The museum currently uses WordPress and I’ve been told at some point I will be working with that site. However I haven’t tackled this yet because there are so many eyes that this content needs to be read by and there is not yet a consensus on what this new program should be.
I’m looking forward to the next few months of work and how I will see the institution change during this time. I will be updating my blog when I can, I will be blogging more about Museums and associated structures and I move through ‘the machine.’