Critical Perspectives and Pathways
Undergraduates in the Archives
Mapping the Provenance of Museum Objects
Walters Art Museum / Johns Hopkins University
The final project for students enrolled in the course Behind the Scenes at the Walters Art Museum: Material Migrations, offered at the Walters Art Museum through Johns Hopkins University, was to trace the provenance of museum objects and describe their historical significance through Google Earth tours. This case study features the work of three students. Their tours, as well as those of several others, have been published by the Walters Art Museum as part of the online exhibit Art on the Move.
Dakota Devos’ tour following the Antiphonary for Abbess of Sainte-Marie of Beaupré, ink on parchment (Flemish, 1290).
Elizabeth Dowdle’s tour following Capitoline Amazon, marble (Roman copy after Kresilas, Greek, active ca. 450 BC – 420 BC).
Joan Tkacs’ tour following an ivory Casket with Scenes of Romances, ivory and bone with modern iron mounts (French, 1330-1350).
Art on the Move was an outcome of the course Behind the Scenes at the Walters Art Museum: Material Migrations, offered at the Walters Art Museum through the Program in Museums and Societyat Johns Hopkins University in the fall of 2009. Elizabeth Rodini and Ben Tilghman were co-instructors and, with the technical guidance of Reid Sczerba, Multimedia Development Specialist in the university’s Center for Educational Resources, devised and oversaw this project. The course and project were funded by an Arts Innovation Grant from Johns Hopkins.
Excerpt from course syllabus:
The goals of this class can be broken down into several categories:
- investigating the various ways/means/motives for the circulation of objects, and considering how meaning is shaped by context, from antiquity to the present and including the museum itself;
- conducting in-depth, independent research on objects in the Walters’ collection;
- experimenting with different styles of writing and narration;
- learning about different areas of museum practice, including curation, conservation, registration, and education;
- applying these experiences to the production of interpretative tools for public audiences of the Walters, in the form of Google Earth itineraries.
Each student will choose two* objects from the Walters collection to research, focusing on the “trajectory” of the objects and their shifting significance in different contexts. Research will involve studying the objects and object files at the museum as well as work in the Johns Hopkins University library and online. That work will be analyzed, interpreted, and gathered into a Google Earth Map “itinerary” for each object. Why? To share what we are learning with the public. This is a fundamental task of museums, and in this course we extended that mission to the undergraduate classroom.
(*The seven students worked on two objects each; we selected some of these for the final presentation on the Walters website.)