Representation Matters: Religion
Semester: Spring 2023
Praxis Course: HART 420 Museum Studies Fieldwork Seminar
Faculty Advisors: Matthew Feliz & Monique Scott
Field Site: Bryn Mawr College Special Collections
Field Supervisors: Carrie Robbins and Marianne Weldon
Praxis Poster:Final_Eliana Silbert Praxis Poster (002)
For my praxis internship as part of the Museum Studies Praxis Fieldwork Seminar, I worked with Bryn Mawr’s Special Collections as part of a project called “Representation Matters.” Our goal was to improve how certain identity factors — religion, race, and gender — are represented in TriArte, Special Collections’ online database. Although I was working with two other people, the focus of our project differed as I was concentrating on religious art and artifacts and they were looking at the gender and race of the artists whose work is in TriArte.
I began my project by searching for various religious objects in online databases in a total of thirteen museums across the country. I kept track of what I liked and what I didn’t like, as well as where I felt that the search systems were lacking. I then did the same with TriArte. Using my notes for both sets of digital explorations, I created a list of ideas for how religious objects should be keyworded. I also included some information about what I thought would be useful to include in blurbs for certain objects, as the blurbs were really helpful in teaching me about what I was looking at when I was on the websites of other museums or digital collections.
I was able to start meeting with Marianne Weldon, the Head of Special Collections’ Arts and Artifacts Department, and begin implementing my ideas. As a religion major and museum studies minor, I also had learned a lot of information in my classes that was useful for this. One of the changes I made involved the Buddha statues owned by Bryn Mawr; I updated their keywords so they all used generic terms such as “Buddhism,” “Buddha,” “religion,” and “religious art,” but also added in terms relating to the mudras displayed by each piece. Mudras are hand gestures that appear a lot in Hindu and Buddhist art, and each mudra has its own name and meaning. It wasn’t always as straightforward as simply adding in mudras, however. I wrote a blurb for a piece titled Abraham Casting out Hagar and Ishmael, where I explained the story, as described in Genesis. However, this specific scene is important not only in Judaism and Christianity, but also in Islam. There are some differences, and I wanted to be respectful of that. However, I also had to be wary of any default assumptions I might make about that scene due to my own Jewish background.
The other lasting impact of my project — beyond the updated items in TriArte — was a section on how to keyword that will go in the Data Entry Standards document used by Special Collections. This is general as opposed to focusing on religion, but I used the specific things I updated in TriArte as examples.
I really enjoyed this project. It allowed me to learn about the importance of word choice and digital archiving, and the impact (positive or negative) that can be made from both of those. I had never given much thought to keywording prior to this project, so I really appreciated that it opened my eyes to such an important aspect of the world of museums.