Category Archives: Thinking tools

I wrote a thing on Medium


“Being Teachable” on Medium


On distributed museums


Nachschaffungszellen. CC-BY 2.0 image by Flickr user Maja Dumat

Museum hive event #1 is coming up!

“What’s Museumhive?” you ask? Excellent question. It’s an informal gathering of people connected with museums to explore new community-centered visions for museums. We intend to create a new hybrid structure, Museumhive, that generates socially relevant content through a series of informal, engaging meetups and Google Hangouts. Like a hive, the structure involves a community, members who come and go and take part in building the hive. Participation is wide, the barrier to entry is as low as we can make it, and there is a tangible outcome to the effort – digital publications all on the theme of “The Distributed Museum” — a museum that is distributed throughout the community.

The formula for Museumhive is pretty simple:

IRL meetup + virtual followup = 
fun & effective thought leadership.

You can learn more about the experiment at the Museumhive website and register to attend. You should also take a peek at guest speaker Nina Simon’s recent post on what constitutes good distributed museum experiences. Brad Larson, Museumhive PI, and I have been talking about this idea for a couple of years now, and I’m totally stoked to see how the kickoff event goes. It’s also encouraging to see Federal funding agencies like IMLS taking a chance on a project that at first blush might seem like a bit of an outlier. I’m a sucker for high-risk/high-reward scenarios. And figuring out a model for “the distributed museum” is a great one to tackle.

The ___________ museum

The distributed museum – one where the generative acts of the museum are decoupled from the edifice of the museum building – isn’t a new idea. Susana Bautista and Anne Balsamo described their vision of the distributed museum thus, “No longer located in a particular physical space, the museum extends its presence through virtual spaces on the web as well as in the transient spaces created through the diverse practices and technologies of mobility. The distributed museum exists ‘over’ the conceptual divides between physical and virtual, fixed and mobile.” Nancy Proctor has written about museums as distributed networks for years, highlighting their potential to be: “conversational rather than uni-directional; engaging and relevant, rather than simply didactic: and generative of content and open-ended rather than finite and closed” [Emphasis mine].  This idea of increasing agency by generating content is something Philip Schorch touches on in The ‘reflexive museum’ – opening the door to behind the scenes,“By revealing the processes leading to the definition of categories and the interpretation of identities, and by giving ‘faces’ to decisions made, the ‘reflexive museum’ can become an embodiment of democracy, which does not silence controversies but gives diversity public voices.”

I’ll confess that when Brad first pitched the idea to me, I couldn’t really grok what he was on about. I understood the concept of a distributed museum experience intellectually, but it conjured up no visuals. I’ve read Bautista and Balsamo’s works, and resonated with their injunction that “the distributed museum”, though often described as being distributed throughout digital means “is not limited to digital technology, even in the digital age.” I’ve tended to be skeptical to any of the formulations of “the __________ museum is…” that promise to fix whatever is ailing the creaky old edifice that is “the traditional museum”. There are a lot of them! The _______ museum could be connected, transformative, responsive, empathetic, participatory, reflexive, kinetic, or distributed. And I’m sure Twitter will continue to feed me more. And often, it feels like a case of curing the symptom rather than the disease. Our MCN 2016 book club book is all about that problem. Desi Gonzalez recently wrote in The Public as Producer “…when social issues are reduced to a design problem, we ignore the very real political and economic landscapes surrounding them.” A lot of what I read and hear in the field goes to great lengths to avoid situating the work we do in its deeply, intrinsically political and economic context.

Maybe I’m getting over it, though. Or the optimist in me is beating the skeptic. I’m actually becoming the skeptimist I aspire to be. I find something heartening and true in Museumhive’s focus on convening groups of interested to talk about what’s important to them, and then figure out a way to make things better. We’ll see what Wednesday night brings. I hope to see you there!

For further reading:
What Does a Great Distributed Digital Museum Experience Look Like?
Museum 2.0
by Nina Simon

The Public as Producer
by Desi Gonzalez

Understanding the Distributed Museum: Mapping the Spaces of Museology in Contemporary Culture
Susana Bautista and Anne Balsamo

The Museum as Distributed Network
by Nancy Proctor

“The ‘reflexive museum’ – opening the door to behind the scenes”, Te Ara – Journal of Museums Aotearoa, vol 33 (1 & 2)
by Philip Schorch

Museum Design 2034: The Distributed Museum
Future of Museums blog

The Participatory Museum and Distributed Curatorial Expertise
by Thomas Söderqvist

Understanding the Distributed Museum: Mapping the Spaces of Museology in Contemporary Culture
by Susana Smith Bautista and Anne Balsamo

The Digitized Museum
by Brian Droitcour, William S. Smith

On saying “Yes”


“Yes” CC-BY-NC 2.0 image by Flickr user Jeremy Brooks

The Inbox that stubbornly refuses to empty. The “To Respond” list that keeps getting longer. The sudden, important meeting that sinks your day’s plan, and most of your day. The point where you mentally switch from “How much will I accomplish this week?” to “How much will I let slip this week?”. Sound at all familiar?

I’ve been having a week. One of those weeks. And something I’ve noticed about my stress response is that I tend to go into “damage control” mode, putting off people and tasks in favor of the thing that needs to be tended most. The impulse often feels soothing, like I’m asserting control and being decisive. And there are seemingly easy things to ditch. My to do list is full of them. The professor trying to find a project for her class. A PhD student asking for an interview. A request to give a lecture at a local museum. That book I’ve been lugging around for a couple of months that I still haven’t finished, let alone made notes on. It’d be easy to say “No” to and cross off the list. But often that damage control actually creates more damage than I’m preventing. The opportunity costs of saying “No” too quickly can be high.

As I was staring at the list, I had one of those little epiphanies that can realign your brain. Having decided to say no to a bunch of things, I didn’t feel any less stressed, or more free to focus. So I asked myself what it would look like if I said yes to the things I was thinking of crossing off. And for a few of them, saying yes didn’t really kill my crowded calendar any more than it already was. And once I started thinking about them as possibilities rather than intrusions I was able to see strategic value. For them, saying “Yes” turned into “Yes, and” in a way that Jen Brown would be proud of. The interview would provide data for other things I was working on. The student project could be a useful testing ground for an idea. I said “Yes” and immediately felt better, even though I’d theoretically added more to the pile.

The opposite was also true. The lecture, while appealing to my vanity and wallet, would require a ton of preparation on a topic that wasn’t really a current interest of mine. Saying yes would mean digging out books I hadn’t read in years, finding old presentations I could retool, and spending time that I would otherwise spend on other items on the to do list. Saying “No” to them was actually the right thing and felt right. But turning the default question around allowed me to differentiate more strategically.

And, of course, the other benefit of this epiphany was that I like saying “yes” and “yes and”. It feels good to engage with the world and the work, and not get stuck in the swamp of Too Much to Do.

Now if I can just finish that book and take notes before MCN2016

MCN 2016 Book Club!

I’ve been reading a ton of interesting stuff this. 2016 may go down as the year of “Ed has too many books to read.” But I’m making my way through them, and the pile of articles, too! One that has really been speaking to my condition has been “Post Critical Museology: Theory and Practice in the Art Museum”. Check it out!


What I like about it
Unlike so many of the books on the market, this isn’t a collection of essays. It’s the result of a major collaborative research project carried out at Tate Britain in London that looks at the reconfiguration of the relationship between art, culture and society and how Tate Britain has tried to respond, with mixed results. It is able to be grounded in one institution, and the authors do a good job of navigating between that specificity and generalizations about the field. I’m a sucker for anything promoting progressive thinking in museological practice and whether or not I resonate with what they’re calling “post-critical museology” or not, it’s been an interesting trip thus far.

I mentioned this on Twitter a few weeks ago to Prof. Suse Cairns, and the response was positive.

So, if you’re going to be in New Orleans for MCN 2016 and are looking for a more structured kind of conversation, come hang out with me and Suse Cairns, and whoever wants to join in as we talk about Post Critical Museology. We’ll find a spot and a time and have a good long talk! I’m looking forward to it.


The afterlife of good ideas

I posted a piece on PEM’s blog about a project I worked on in 2013 that has been enjoying a remarkable resurgence. Check it out.

And if you need a reason to remember to blog about your work, consider that all this interest is a result of people being able to read my original blog post about the boat.


My new CODE|WORDS piece is up!

My long correspondence with Lesley Kadish about immersion has started appearing on the new CODE|WORDS publication: A Series of Epistolary Events. I invite you to check it out as it plays out over the next several weeks. Immersion, the Senses, and Embodied Experiences

What I’m Reading…

Given the difficulties I’ve had finishing the last couple of things I posted on my blog, I thought I’d steal a page from one of my blogging comrades and post a list of the things I’m currently reading. There’s a synthesis of this brewing, but for now, here are some tasty, tasty articles for those of you interested in non-colonial museology.

Bennett, A. J. T. P. K. (2013). MARAE: A whakapapa of the Maori marae. University of Canterbury.

Boast, R. (2011). NEOCOLONIAL COLLABORATION: Museum as Contact Zone Revisited. Museum Anthropology, 34(1), 56–70. doi:10.1111/j.1548-1379.2010.01107.x

Bodo, S., Gibbs, K., & Sani, M. (2009). Museums as places for intercultural dialogue: selected practices from Europe. London: Park Printing Co. Ltd.

Clifford, J. (1997). Museums as Contact Zones. In Routes. Travel and Translation in the Twentieth Century (pp. 188–219).

Duncan, C., & Wallach, A. (1980). The Universal Survey Museum. Art History, 3, 448–469. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8365.1980.tb00089.x

Gere, C. (1997). Museums, contact zones and the Internet. Archives & Museum Infomatics. Retrieved from

Hakiwai, A. T. (2014). HE MANA TAONGA , HE MANA TANGATA : MĀORI TAONGA AND THE POLITICS OF MĀORI TRIBAL IDENTITY AND DEVELOPMENT by Arapata Tamati Hakiwai Tuhinga Whakarāpopoto – Abstract, (November).

Jenkins, H. (2006). Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture : Media Education for the 21 Century. Program. Retrieved from

Johnston, P. (n.d.). Global Knowledge in the Early Republic.

Kansa, E. C., Kansa, S. W., & Watrall, E. M. (2011). Archaeology 2.0: New Approaches to Communication and Collaboration. Cotsen Digital Archaeology series. Retrieved from

Mccarthy, C. (2013). Museums in a Global World: A Conversation on Museums, Heritage, Nation, and Diversity in a Transnational Age. Advances in Research – Museum, 1(1), 179–194. doi:10.3167/armw.2013.010111

Schorch, P. (2013). Contact Zones, Third Spaces, and the Act of Interpretation. Museum and Society, 11(1), 68–81. Retrieved from

Schorch, P. (2014). The Cosmohermeneutics of Migration Encounters at the Immigration Museum , Melbourne, 2(Baur 2009), 81–98. doi:10.3167/armw.2014.020106

Schorch, P. (2013). The experience of a museum space. Museum Management and Curatorship, 28(2), 193–208. doi:10.1080/09647775.2013.776797

Schorch, P. (2009). The reflexive museum: opening the door to behind the scenes. Journal of Museums Aotearoa, 33(1&2), 28–31.

Schorch, P., & Hakiwai, A. (2014). Mana Taonga and the public sphere: A dialogue between Indigenous practice and Western theory. International Journal of Cultural Studies, 17(2), 191–205. doi:10.1177/1367877913482785

Schorch, P., Mccarthy, C., & Hakiwai, A. (2016). Globalizing Māori Museology: Reconceptualizing Engagement, Knowledge, and Virtuality through Mana Taonga. Museum Anthropology, 39(1), 48–69. doi:10.1111/muan.12103

Schorch, P., Walton, J., Priest, N., & Paradies, Y. (2015). Encountering the “Other”: Interpreting Student Experiences of a Multi-Sensory Museum Exhibition. Journal of Intercultural Studies, 36(2), 221–240. doi:10.1080/07256868.2015.1008432

Stuedahl, D. (2015). The Connective Museum. In Museum Communication; Prospects and perspectives. International research conference, Danish Royal Academy of Sciences and Letters, Copenhagen, Denmark 27‐28 August 2015.

Taylor, J., & Gibson, L. K. (2016). Digitisation, digital interaction and social media: embedded barriers to democratic heritage. International Journal of Heritage Studies, 7258(May), 1–13. doi:10.1080/13527258.2016.1171245

Tauhere Connections. (2016).