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“Stories of archives are always stories of phantoms, of the death or disappearance or erasure of something, the preservation of what remains, and its possible reappearance—feared by some, desired by others,” writes Thomas Keenan. Archiving the Commons: Looking Through the Lens of bak.ma (DPR Barcelona, June 2024) is about those stories and much mor…
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During the first half of the twentieth century, a group of collectors and creators dedicated themselves to documenting the history of African American life. At a time when dominant institutions cast doubt on the value or even the idea of Black history, these bibliophiles, scrapbookers, and librarians created an enduring set of African diasporic arc…
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Archaeology as a discipline has undergone significant changes over the past decades, in particular concerning best practices for how to handle the vast quantities of data that the discipline generates. As Shaping Archaeological Archives: Dialogues between Fieldwork, Museum Collections, and Private Archives (Brepols, 2023) uncovers, much of this dat…
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In sixteenth and seventeenth-century England, the female silhouette underwent a dramatic change. This very structured form, created using garments called bodies and farthingales, existed in various extremes in Western Europe and beyond, in the form of stays, corsets, hoop petticoats and crinolines, right up until the twentieth century. With a nuanc…
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Ariella Aisha Azoulay argues that the institutions that make our world, from archives and museums to ideas of sovereignty and human rights to history itself, are all dependent on imperial modes of thinking. Imperialism has segmented populations into differentially governed groups, continually emphasized the possibility of progress while trying to d…
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How are digital platforms transforming heritage? In Geopolitics of Digital Heritage (Cambridge UP, 2023), Dr Natalia Grincheva, Program Leader of the BA (Hons) Arts Management at the University of the Arts Singapore and Honorary Senior Research Fellow at the University of Melbourne, and Dr Elizabeth Stainforth, a lecturer in the School of Fine Art,…
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How do bureaucratic documents create and reproduce a state’s capacity to see? What kinds of worlds do documents help create? Further, how might such documentary practices and settler colonial ways of seeing be refused? Settler Colonial Ways of Seeing: Documentation, Administration, and the Interventions of Indigenous Art (Fordham University Press, …
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The past several decades have seen a massive shift in debates over who owns and has the right to tell Native American history and stories. For centuries, non-Native actors have collected, stolen, sequestered, and gained value from Native stories and documents, human remains, and sacred objects. However, thanks to the work of Native activists, Nativ…
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Archival Film Curatorship: Early and Silent Cinema from Analog to Digital (Amsterdam UP, 2023) is the first book-length study that investigates film archives at the intersection of institutional histories, early and silent film historiography, and archival curatorship. It examines three institutions at the forefront of experimentation with film exh…
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Through a variety of archival documents, artefacts, illustrations, and references to primary and secondary literature, On the Job: A History of American Work Uniforms (Bloomsbury, 2024) by Dr. Heather Akou explores the changing styles, business practices, and lived experiences of the people who make, sell, and wear service-industry uniforms in the …
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Mpho Ngoepe and Sindiso Bhebhe's Indigenous Archives in Postcolonial Contexts: Recalling the Pasts (Routledge, 2024) revisits the definition of a record and extends it to include memory, murals, rock art paintings and other objects. Drawing on five years of research and examples from Zimbabwe, Botswana and South Africa, Mpho Ngoepe and Sindiso Bheb…
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Cuban Cultural Heritage: A Rebel Past for a Revolutionary Nation (UP of Florida, 2018) explores the role that cultural heritage and museums played in the construction of a national identity in postcolonial Cuba. Starting with independence from Spain in 1898 and moving through Cuban-American rapprochement in 2014, Pablo Alonso González illustrates h…
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Who do you turn to at the brink of the apocalypse? What might help us to mitigate the financial, commercial, political, social, and cultural collapse for which we may be heading? Museums and Societal Collapse: The Museum as Lifeboat (Routledge, 2023) proposes an unlikely hero in this narrative. Robert Janes’ text explores the implications of societ…
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In her new book Yellow Star, Red Star: Holocaust Remembrance after Communism (Cornell University Press, 2019) Jelena Subotić asks why Holocaust memory continues to be so deeply troubled―ignored, appropriated, and obfuscated―throughout Eastern Europe, even though it was in those lands that most of the extermination campaign occurred. As part of acce…
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In 1936, long before the discovery of the Viking settlement at L'Anse aux Meadows, the Royal Ontario Museum made a sensational acquisition: the contents of a Viking grave that prospector Eddy Dodd said he had found on his mining claim east of Lake Nipigon. The relics remained on display for two decades, challenging understandings of when and where …
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Home to the first two drafts of the U.S. Constitution, an original printer’s proof of the Declaration of Independence, and the earliest surviving American photograph, the Historical Society of Pennsylvania (HSP) is one of the nation’s largest libraries. Published in conjunction with the anniversary of the Society’s founding in 1824, Two Hundred Yea…
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Yael A. Sternhell's War on Record: The Archive and the Aftermath of the Civil War (Yale University Press, 2023) is a history of the United States' greatest archival project and how it has shaped what we know about the Civil War. The Civil War generated a vast archive of official records--documents that would shape the postwar era and determine what…
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Where were the Brontë sisters actually born? If this was a quiz question, most people would give the wrong answer. Even standard books on the Brontë family often gloss over the fact that Charlotte, Emily and Anne – along with their wayward brother Branwell – were all born between 1815 and 1820 in Thornton, a village on the edge of Bradford, and not…
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The global refugee, the ship passenger, the displaced person. How did their homeseeking routes and visual motifs intersect and diverge in the early Holocaust film archive? Simone Gigliotti's Restless Archive: The Holocaust and the Cinema of the Displaced tracks the footsteps and routes of predominantly Jewish refugees and postwar displaced persons …
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Editor Abigail Bainbridge and contributing author Sonja Schwoll join this discussion of Conservation of Books (Routledge 2023), the highly anticipated reference work on global book structures and their conservation. Offering the first modern, comprehensive overview on this subject, this volume takes an international approach. Written by over 70 spe…
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The gold epaulettes that George Washington wore into battle. A Union soldier's bloody shirt in the wake of the Civil War. A crushed wristwatch after the 9/11 attacks. The bullet-riddled door of the Pulse nightclub. Volatile and shape-shifting, relics have long played a role in memorializing the American past, acting as physical reminders of hard-wo…
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101 Treasures from the National Library of Israel (Scala Arts, 2022) provides a thematic journey through the rich and diverse collections of the National Library of Israel and the Jewish people worldwide. Selected by the Library's curators and collections experts, this fine-art volume presents 101 of the most precious items in the Library's collect…
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Ritual deposition is not an activity that many people in the Western world would consider themselves participants of. The enigmatic beliefs and magical thinking that led to the deposition of swords in watery places and votive statuettes in temples, for example, may feel irrelevant to the modern day. However, Dr. Ceri Houlbrook shows in ‘Ritual Litt…
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In Archive Everything: Mapping the Everyday (MIT Press, 2016; paperback edition, 2023), Gabriella Giannachi traces the evolution of the archive into the apparatus through which we map the everyday. The archive, traditionally a body of documents or a site for the preservation of documents, changed over the centuries to encompass, often concurrently,…
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How the image collection, organized and made available for public consumption, came to define a key feature of contemporary visual culture. The origins of today’s kaleidoscopic digital visual culture are many. In Picture-Work: How Libraries, Museums, and Stock Agencies Launched a New Image Economy (MIT Press, 2023), Diana Kamin traces the sharing o…
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Janice Rieger's book Design, Disability and Embodiment: Spatial Justice and Perspectives of Power (Routledge, 2023) explores the spatial and social injustices within our streets, malls, schools, and public institutions. Taken-for-granted acts like going for a walk, seeing an exhibition with a friend, and going to school are, for people with disabil…
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Modernist Iranian art represents a highly diverse field of cultural production deeply involved in discussing questions of modernity and modernization as practiced in Iran. This book investigates how artistic production and art criticism reflected upon the discourse about gharbzadegi (westoxification), the most substantial critique of Iran's adaptat…
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Bookshop.org is an online book retailer that donates more than 80% of its profits to independent bookstores. Launched in 2020, Bookshop.org has already raised more than $27,000,000. In this interview, Andy Hunter, founder and CEO discusses his journey to creating one of the most revolutionary new organizations in the book world. Bookshop has found …
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Framing the Holocaust: Photographs of a Mass Shooting in Latvia, 1941 (University of Wisconsin Press, 2023), edited by Valerie Hébert, compiles essays on the meaning of twelve photographs of a terrible atrocity. In December 1941, German police and their local collaborators shot 2,749 Jews at the beach in Sķēde, near Liepāja, Latvia. Twelve photogra…
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Ana Lucia Araujo's book Museums and Atlantic Slavery (Routledge, 2021) explores how slavery, the Atlantic slave trade, and enslaved people are represented through words, visual images, artifacts, and audiovisual materials in museums in Europe and the Americas. Divided into four chapters, the book addresses four recurrent themes: wealth and luxury; …
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“In Mao’s China, to curate revolution was to make it material.” Denise Y. Ho’s new book explores this premise in a masterful account of exhibitionary culture in the Mao period (1949-1976) and beyond. Curating Revolution: Politics on Display in Mao’s China (Cambridge University Press, 2017) argues that “curating revolution taught people how... Learn…
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In The Other Side of Empathy (Duke UP, 2023), Jade E. Davis contests the value of empathy as an affective or critical tool. Whether focusing on technology, colonialism, or racism, she shows how empathy can obscure relationships of dominance, control, submission, and victimization, arguing that these histories taint the whole concept of empathy. Dra…
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Picture Research: The Work of Intermediation from Pre-Photography to Post-Digitization (MIT Press, 2023) focuses on how pictures were saved, stored, and searched for in a time before scanners, servers, and search engines, and describes the dramatic difference it made when images became scannable, searchable, and distributable via the internet. Whil…
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Nataša Jagdhuhn's Post-Yugoslav Metamuseums: Reframing Second World War Heritage in Postconflict Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Serbia (Palgrave Macmillan, 2022) analyzes the reframing of Second World War heritage in the memorial museums of the post-socialist, post-conflict states of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, and Serbia. In focusing on…
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In Becoming Colorado: The Centennial State in 100 Objects (UP of Colorado, 2021), historian William Wei paints a vivid portrait of Colorado history using 100 of the most compelling artifacts from Colorado’s history. These objects reveal how Colorado has evolved over time, allowing readers to draw multiple connections among periods, places, and peop…
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Awkward Archives: Ethnographic Drafts for a Modular Curriculum (Archive Books, 2022) proposes a manual for academic teaching and learning contexts. An ethnographic research approach is confronted with the demands of archival research as both disciplines challenge their inner logics and epistemologies. Through fieldwork and ethnographic tools and me…
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What is the future for cultural policy? In Cultural Policy Beyond the Economy: Work, Value, and the Social (Edward Elgar, 2023), Deborah Stevenson, Professor of Sociology and Urban Cultural Research in the Institute for Culture and Society at Western Sydney University, analyses key trends on themes in contemporary cultural policy. The book covers t…
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On an afternoon in January 1865, a roaring fire swept through the Smithsonian Institution. Dazed soldiers and worried citizens could only watch as the flames engulfed the museum’s castle. Rare objects and valuable paintings were destroyed. The flames at the Smithsonian were not the first—and certainly would not be the last— disaster to upend a muse…
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On the centenary of the fascist party's ascent to power in Italy, Curating Fascism: Exhibitions and Memory from the Fall of Mussolini to Today (Bloomsbury, 2022) examines the ways in which exhibitions organised after the fall of Mussolini's regime to the present day have shaped collective memory, historical narratives, and political discourse aroun…
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So-called extinct objects are those that were imagined but were never in use, or that existed but are now unused—superseded, unfashionable, or simply forgotten. Extinct: A Compendium of Obsolete Objects (Reaktion Books, 2021) gathers together an exceptional range of artists, curators, architects, critics, and academics, including Hal Foster, Barry …
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In Spoils of Knowledge: Seventeenth-Century Plunder in Swedish Archives and Libraries (Brill, 2023), Emma Hagström Molin offers novel perspectives on document and book plundering. At the forefront of her study is the controversial heritage connected to the Swedish Empire (1611–1721) kept in Swedish archives and libraries. Previous studies suggest t…
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In Uncommon Sense: Aesthetics after Marcuse (MIT Press, 2022), Craig Leonard argues for the contemporary relevance of the aesthetic theory of Herbert Marcuse, an original member of the Frankfurt School and icon of the New Left, while also acknowledging his philosophical limits. This account reinvigorates Marcuse for contemporary readers, putting hi…
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“Archivists feel that what their mission is, is to document society. And the question is: how can you document society if you only look at or value or preserve­—maybe value is the right word—a particular segment of the expressions of society?” In Archiving Cultures: Heritage, Community and the Making of Records and Memory (Routledge, 2023), Jeannet…
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Material objects—things made, used, and treasured—tell the story of a people and place. So it is for the Indigenous Sámi living in Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Russia, whose story unfolds across borders and centuries, in museums and private collections. As described in From Lapland to Sápmi: Collecting and Returning Sámi Craft and Culture (Universi…
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Blunt Instruments: Recognizing Racist Cultural Infrastructure in Memorials, Museums, and Patriotic Practices (Beacon Press, 2022) provides a field guide to the memorials, museums, and practices that commemorate white supremacy in the United States—and how to reimagine a more deeply shared cultural infrastructure for the future. Cultural infrastruct…
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In Unseen Art: Making, Vision, and Power in Ancient Mesoamerica (U Texas Press, 2023), Claudia Brittenham unravels one of the most puzzling phenomena in Mesoamerican art history: why many of the objects that we view in museums today were once so difficult to see. She examines the importance that ancient Mesoamerican people assigned to the process o…
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To the Collector Belong the Spoils: Modernism and the Art of Appropriation (Cornell UP, 2023) rethinks collecting as an artistic, revolutionary, and appropriative modernist practice, which flourishes beyond institutions like museums or archives. Through a constellation of three author-collectors—Henry James, Walter Benjamin, and Carl Einstein—Annie…
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Joel Sweimler, Exhibition Specialist at the American Museum of Natural History, talks about his career at the museum, working on Seeing Truth, and what his favorite object in the collection happen to be this week. Learn more about the Seeing Truth exhibition at our website. Follow us on Twitter @WhyArguePod and on Instagram @WhyWeArguePod Alexis L.…
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Medieval manuscripts are our shared inheritance, and today they are more accessible than ever—thanks to digital copies online. Yet for all that widespread digitization has fundamentally transformed how we connect with the medieval past, we understand very little about what these digital objects really are. We rarely consider how they are made or wh…
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In Bone Rooms: From Scientific Racism to Human Prehistory in Museums (Harvard University Press, 2022 for paperback edition), Samuel J. Redman, Associate Professor of History at the University of Massachusetts, uncovers the equally fascinating and disturbing history behind the vast collections of human remains assembled by medical and natural histor…
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