Carnegie Museum of Natural History

    • Hayley in her office
    • Gems in Hillman Hall of Minerals and Gems
    • Scribe in Walton Hall of Ancient Egypt
    • Butterfly on a plant in Botany Hall
    Hayley in her office

    In my office in the Marketing Department.

     

    Seeing the Museum Through a Lens

    Museum Studies Intern at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History - Spring 2017

    Ever since I was a child, I remember visiting the Carnegie Museum of Natural History and leaving in awe for many obvious reasons. The infamous dinosaurs stretching across their entire hall, the Egyptian mummies with their colorful designs, and even the underrated bliss of being able to run down the cool, marble steps of the Grand Staircase, all left me with feelings of curiosity. It wasn’t until I became a marketing intern, that I began to see things a little differently. I still tried to keep the raw innocence of stepping into a museum and expecting things larger than life, but now I see the importance of each piece archived in all of its detail.

    Before starting my internship in the Marketing Department, I admittedly knew little of Natural History and the modern issues that arose with such non-profit management. But it is inherent to learn more about a subject the more you read and write about it and that’s what I was assigned to do in my first few weeks. I stumbled upon pronouncing dinosaur names such as ‘Pterosaur’ but soon became confident in my ability to write about them after some research. I learned which scientists faces went with the names I was emailing and I read articles about the museum’s ideas for innovation.

    My position included editing and writing content, producing photographs for social media, organizing archives, content analysis, answering visitor emails, and even the occasional daily office work, often stereotyped as the intern’s only position. I was truly lucky enough to be treated as another member of the marketing team, regardless of my age or the limits of my experience.

    One of the most significant projects I was chosen to work on was organizing and archiving all of the Marketing Department’s photos. It was my assignment to research sites that would allow an online space with easy access for all of our department’s employees to use. After much consideration, we chose a program that would eventually take me a couple months to complete the uploading. It was a long tedious assignment, but it allowed me to see every photo taken for the museum, past, present, and even my own; that was a surreal moment for me.

    It is common in the office to hear the word, ‘interactive’ suggested for different marketing campaigns and exhibition descriptions, and eventually this word would make its way into the way we used images. It was an amazing upgrade from the normal Windows filing system, and I quickly learned that progression was a huge factor in the museum community and something prominent in every department. Many people may associate Natural History as stagnant and unchangeable, but I have learned that we can use the informative, unique history to explain and educate individuals on a way to enhance the future. Whether it be through the use of photographs, blog posts, or educational programs offered to visitors, the Carnegie Museum of Natural History has provided a positive perspective on the way that I now view museum management. In the future, I hope to explore more learning opportunities with museums and other non-profit organizations. The Carnegie Museum of Natural History has continued to leave me with curiosity in all of its endeavors.

    Learn more about the Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh initiative here

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    Talking about "The Other": Resources for the CMNH

    Museum Studies Intern at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History - Spring 2017

    This past spring, I had the opportunity to work alongside Dr. Erin Peters and the Department of Education at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History (CMNH). My job was to provide an outline for a potential curriculum to be used for docent training at the CMNH in talking about cultures which are considered “the other" particularly with Alcoa Hall, but also in general. The term “the other” or alterity in this context refers to cultures which vary greatly from western culture and as such are not well known among the average person in the United States and often the average person has grave misconceptions of these cultures. These facts make it difficult to discuss these cultures in a museum setting.

    In an attempt to tackle this task, I started by talking to professors in several departments at the University of Pittsburgh including anthropology, history of art and architecture, and religious studies to get their opinion on the subject as well as the current state of the cultural halls at the CMNH. I was also able to set up meetings with the director of the Department of Education at CMNH as well as the people in charge of training docents to get their opinions on the subject. I was even able to view the training videos that they use for training the docents at CMNH in the cultural halls.

    By combining the opinions of academics and museum professionals, I was able to get a good idea of where to start my own research. From there, I did a lot of research ranging from specific case studies of mostly representations of Native American groups in museums through to anthropological and historical theory. This took up the bulk of my internship by simply reading through the material and creating short summaries of each paper/book.

    At the end of my internship I created a short outline with all of the ‘big ideas’ of all of the readings for the CMNH as well as a set of summaries for the resources that I gathered. These will be presented to the Department of Education at the CMNH to help guide them as they are changing their docent curriculum.

    Overall, this internship was very research oriented and hands-off. I found that it helped me to better work independently and find better sources for research projects in museum studies research. In the future, I hope to use these skills to further my own research.

    • The Walton Hall of Ancient Egypt
    • Implementation of Front-End Evaluations
    • Implementation of Front-End Evaluations
    The Walton Hall of Ancient Egypt

    The Walton Hall of Ancient Egypt

     

    Audience Evaluations at the Walton Hall of Ancient Egypt

    Museum Studies Intern at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History - Spring 2017 

    As an undergraduate student who is double majoring in Anthropology and Art History with a Museum Studies minor, I was overwhelmed when offered the opportunity to work side-by-side with Dr. Erin Peters, assistant curator at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, during the initial stages of development for the institution’s new ancient Egyptian exhibit.

    I began my position as a curatorial intern by reading articles and reports as background information, which explained how audience evaluations are designed, implemented, and reported in a museum. After this initial research, I developed my own audience evaluations that I then conducted on visitors of the Walton Hall of Ancient Egypt. Two evaluations resulted in the form of questionnaires. The first was a summative evaluation of the current exhibit, while the second utilized front-end methodology focusing on the ideas that have been formulated for the new exhibit. I spent approximately 24 hours and 55 minutes conducting these evaluations, receiving a total of 86 responses for the summative questionnaire and 83 responses for the front-end survey. I then analyzed the results and produced a report that will be included in the institution’s proposal for the new Egyptian exhibit, “Egypt on the Nile”. In this report, I drew conclusions about visitors’ responses and made suggestions regarding the modification, addition, or elimination of elements included in the current ideas for the new exhibit.

    Through my work with Dr. Peters, I learned valuable information about audience evaluation techniques and the process of designing new exhibits in museums. Additionally, the challenges that arose resulted in beneficial learning experiences. From the implementation of my evaluations, I learned about the different sampling techniques that can be utilized. After attempting to offer my questionnaire to every fourth group exiting the exhibit, I found that the varying amounts of time that participants took to complete the survey restricted me from doing so, as I only had one laptop on which the questions could be completed. Because of this difficulty, I decided to change my evaluation methods for the second questionnaire. I then had both a laptop and paper surveys available so that multiple participants were able to complete the questionnaire at one time. This allowed me to ask every group that exited the Walton Hall of Ancient Egypt rather than waiting for every fourth group. These methods proved to be much more successful and brought an increased amount of consistency to the implementation of my evaluations.

    Because I hope to work at either an art or natural history museum in the future, possibly in exhibit design or educational programming, this position provided me with significant real-world experience in a museum setting. My internship allowed me to expand my understanding of museum evaluation techniques, technical writing and reporting, and the various roles that work together to create a new museum exhibit.

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    Botany Hall: The Advantages and Disadvantages To Navigating A Self-Directed Research-Intensive Internship

    Museum Studies Intern at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History - Fall 2016 

    As I applied to an academic internship over the previous summer, I was invited to collaborate in an ongoing research endeavor that was being led by two Ph.D. candidates in graduate school at the University of Pittsburgh, Colleen O’Reilly of the History of Art and Architecture department, and Aisling Quigley of the Information Sciences department. Their research was concerning Botany Hall of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History and was conceived out of the realization that there is very little knowledge about the conception of the hall and its content available to museum visitors. With the pursuit of finding more knowledge about this mysterious hall that is tucked away on the second floor of the museum, in the spring of 2016 Colleen and Aisling began conducting research through many veins like provenance, history, and individuals who helped make the physical hall, as well as individuals in charge of curating and making decisions about it on behalf of the museum. The purpose of the research was to eventually create an online exhibition of Botany Hall that would be available to the public for educational and informational purposes.

    Colleen informed me at our first meeting of their current research and end goals. I was very intrigued, but expected that I would do basic internship tasks to aid their process and help nurse along their end goal of an online exhibition. To my surprise, Colleen told me that they wanted myself and two other undergraduate students to conduct our own research of our choosing that relates to Botany Hall. We would eventually contribute our own final product, of which the platform would also be up to our discretion, to be a subset of their final online exhibition.

    After visiting the hall and considering what knowledge could be emphasized to museum visitors, I decided to do my research from an art historical and visual studies angle. I found the dioramas that made up the hall to be extremely interesting, yet contradictory. I was confused why there was an artistic painting in the background of each diorama. Why was art in a science museum? The time spent on my internship each week was rather autonomous and up to my discretion. The only requirements I received were that I must work on my internship for 10 hours per week, that I should keep a journal of my progress, and that I would also meet with Colleen weekly to discuss my progress and findings. The only person I reported to was Colleen and Aisling, as they dealt with the relationship with the university and museum. Other than that, my research and final product were up to me and therefore, my weekly schedule of what I needed to accomplish was the same, along with what type of final product I would want to contribute.

    Throughout the semester I would conduct research by finding primary sources related to the museum and the hall as well as secondary sources that related to the display style and related topics in visual studies. I would also visit exhibitions like the botanical show in the Hunt library at CMU, make appointments to see various Carnegie archives, and explore other areas of the Carnegie museums to research. Over the course of the semester, I felt a lot of feelings of being overwhelmed or alone on my research due to the nature of the internship. The autonomy can be very exciting as it is based on self-inquiry, yet it can also be extremely overwhelming when you have little direction on your process and end-product. Meeting weekly with Colleen was very helpful, but it would have been nice to be able to meet with the two other undergraduates working on their own research and projects on Botany Hall more often. Unfortunately scheduling became a major issue since we did not have specific time, we all met together during the week and our busy school and work schedules made it almost impossible to find time to collaborate and inform one and other along the way.

    Throughout the semester my topic also evolved many times as I found more information or realized I wanted to focus more on another element. My plan for an end-product changed many times from originally wanting to do a formal essay to the more visual and interactive media of a Prezi presentation. My final Prezi presentation discusses the oddity and general disinterest revolving the artistic qualities of the dioramas, specifically the idealistic background painting and why there is art in a science museum? I later go on to discuss problems of trustworthiness with subjective images such as art paintings that are used for the education of science. After arguing for why we can trust these images, I ultimately prove why those same artistic qualities are the what make the diorama so effective as an educational tool. Furthermore, I explain how art through different mediums and media can be advantageous for communicating educational material, specifically scientific information in this example.

    Overall, this internship was extremely helpful in strengthening my confidence in my research and preparation and time management abilities. It also gave me a taste of what it takes to do research at a higher level of education, which is something I found useful as I am interested in graduate school. Not only did I enjoy the material I researched, but it also inspired me to further this research. With an interest in focusing more on visual knowledge through the study of botanical illustrations, I applied to the London Field Studies Program in 2017, to which I found out I was accepted! If it were not for this internship, I would have never had the chance to do so much independent research on my own and strengthen the necessary skills, but I especially would not have been introduced to a topic that I find so fascinating.

    Categories: 
    • Visual Knowledge
    • Current Projects
    • Academic Interns
    • Dioramas in Context
    • Undergraduate Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh
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    Changing Roles of the Botany Hall Dioramas Video - Final Blog Post

    Museum Studies Intern at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History - Fall 2016

    It has been enlightening and eyeopening semester while working on the Botany Hall internship. Not only have I gain a great deal of knowledge about Botany and the hall and the workings of the museum, but it has allowed my to realize the amount of work and drive that is required for an internship that is largely independent work. My project is a short documentary about the changing context of dioramas, specifically those of Botany Hall, in museum context. Here is an exerpt from the intro to my script:

    "First constructed in the late 1920’s with its last exhibit being installed in 1973, Botany Hall depicts the astonishing diversity of plant life. The hall emphasizes four different biomes found in the continental United States: a Florida everglade, a Mt. Rainier alpine meadow, an Arizona desert, and Pennsylvania landscapes that include Presque Isle during the summer, a Warren County bog in the fall, and the Allegheny Natural Forest in the spring. Additional exhibitions in Botany Hall feature plants that have been used for food, as medicine, or in industry. Among these are a diorama depicting a western Pennsylvania herb garden and exhibitions of plant fibers, edible fruits and nuts and poisonous plants. Each diorama contains hundreds of specific species based on fieldwork research.

    Dioramas differ from art and other historical objects in museums due to their blend of unique scientific and artistic input. The early dioramas of Botany hall are the production of a specific impression that the artists, Ottmar Von Feuhrer, and Hanna Von Feuhrer wanted to create. Ottmar was primarily responsible for the backgrounds and overall design while Hanna and a large group of primarily women, made the individual specimens. Their work was based on scientific field expeditions that gathered specimens. From these collections, reproductions were made of wax and paper. Everything from the time of day, season, to exact plants is specifically and deliberately chosen to recreate a snapshot of a location in time and nature that is normally in constant fluctuation. The dioramas come together to form one entity that surrounds viewers in carefully recreated nature.

    But now museums all over the world are facing a new challenge. These dioramas seem very far removed from modern methods of display that use digital technology. Museums are a timeless entity, protectors of the past and history for future generations, but now that technology has become such a staple in people’s lives, how do dioramas compete with it? Prior to the 21st century, the dioramas were an engaging museum attraction. However in recent years the dioramas have received less attention and since the 70s no major changes have been made to the hall. Should Botany Hall’s representation of nature be adapted to fit the current context of the world? We turn to current Carnegie Museum employees to learn their thoughts"

    Getting permission and the chance to film the museum and its employees was a great opportunity that allowed me to work on my filmmaking skills and I gained a valuable insight into the world of diorama making and their current context in the Carnegie Museum. It was at times difficult to figure out what to do about the technical logistic issues such as permission to film the museum and its employees but luckily I had a great internship mentor in Colleen and she was always so helpful when it came to dealing with issues that neither of us new about. From flipping through old archives in the museum annex to constantly rewriting a script to finally filming the museum, it was a wonderful opportunity that allowed me to learn by my own mistakes as well as giving me insight into the professional realm of the museum world and the documentary filmmaking world.

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    Looking Behind the Glass: Rediscovering the Women of Botany Hall

    Museum Studies Intern at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History - Fall 2016 

    This semester I had a research internship with the department to work with a group of undergraduate students on the dioramas of CMNH’s Botany Hall. With graduate student Colleen O’Reilly as my mentor, I was given the opportunity to create my own independent project on the topic of my choice. My primary focus was the role women played in the creation of the dioramas from past and present. This subject interested me most because it was a point where botany, museum studies, and gender studies intersected. The section of Botany in the Natural History museum was dominated by women compared to the other departments. The broader thoughts that challenged me throughout this project were about the museum’s accessibility to women during the different stages of botanical dioramas; was Botany Hall a space which simply allowed women to flourish, one that confined them to a subject that was considered “appropriate”, or one that was passed off as “women’s work”? I wanted to take a different approach to presenting this research so I worked with an online program called Scalar. Scalar is a platform that creates a digital book that allows readers to navigate their own path through the narratives that I present. The pictures and documents found in the museum’s archives were vital in the understanding and creation of this project and I felt that I needed a platform that showcased that. Though I ran into just as many technical challenges as I did with my actual research, it was really rewarding to watch it all come together

    Categories: 
    • Agency
    • Current Projects
    • Academic Interns
    • Dioramas in Context
    • Undergraduate Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh
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    Women of Carnegie's Botany Hall

    Museum Studies Intern at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History - Fall 2016       

    Located on the second floor of CMNH, adjacent to the North American Wildlife Section, the Hall of Botany seems like a forgotten space by the museum. Initially, I was unsure if I would find a story that genuinely interested me.  I had no idea of the wealth of research avenues that would peak my interests.

    The narrative that I found most engaging was women’s roles in the conception and creation of the dioramas featured in the Botany Hall. In the beginning, I believed that researching the work and lives of these women and writing their biographies would sufficiently tell this story. However, while I was exploring through the abundant archival documents and photographs, I began to realize that there was something larger going on. I quickly learned that by learning about these women’s lives, I was only scratching the surface. The questions that came to mind focused on the subject of botany as a discipline. Was the study of botany considered “women’s work”? If so, how did this happen? What happened to the study of botany in academic settings? Has it been labeled as another topic? Other questions related to the subject’s relationship with museums. Why was CMNH neglecting this section? Were other museums doing the same thing? Did this lack of interest relate to gender? I was really seeking to understand these relationships. 

    I think the biggest challenge I have faced so far in this research project is trying to create a coherent narrative that connects the women of CMNH’s Botany Hall to this broader investigation into Botany’s importance in natural history museums and as a discipline general. Through these weeks of research, I have formed many questions but at times forming the connections between these queries seem disjointed or forced. In the coming weeks, I believe that as I continue my research and gather more details I will be able to see the connections that exist. 

    Categories: 
    • Visual Knowledge
    • Current Projects
    • Academic Interns
    • Dioramas in Context
    • Undergraduate Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh
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    Midterm Blog Post- Update on Progress

    Museum Studies Intern at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History - Fall 2016

    After reading only a mere summary of a few possible academic internship opportunities, I really had no idea what to expect when I chose to join an internship that involved working on a digital exhibition of Botany Hall in the Carnegie Museum of Natural History. I had no idea what my role in this project would be, nor how large of a project this digital exhibition would be. When I first met with PhD candidate, Colleen O’Reilly, one of the two students in charge of creating the idea for the exhibition and curating it through each stage of the process, I was a little overwhelmed when she explained my role in the project. I was told that I could basically contribute any final project to the digital exhibition that I saw suitable after visiting and extensively researching Botany Hall – a site in the museum that mysteriously seems to have little obvious and accessible information available about it to the public. I was generally confused about what Botany Hall was, considering I knew it had been years since I visited the Carnegie Natural History Museum. She explained that the hall contained dioramas of various biomes around the United States.

    After meeting with Colleen and being introduced to the project, I examined Botany Hall on my own using a careful and precise art historical lens and the first thing that really stood out to me was the oddity of the idealistically painted backgrounds in the dioramas. They were made to be illusionistic and to make the three-dimensional objects in the foreground appear to extend into the background painting, giving an overall trompe-l’oeil effect. It seemed so odd that something so subjective like art could be used as an educational tool for something accredited with being so objective like science. At this point I knew my contribution to the digital exhibition would revolve around researching the background paintings and I ultimately decided that I could best contribute to the digital exhibition on the hall through producing an essay and wall text with images.

    Probably the biggest problem that I have had is one that might seem like a positive at first, but I have had the bittersweet problem of finding so much information, whether primary or secondary, to sift through it to ultimately choose what information is relevant. To my advantage in research, individuals that worked on this project previously had digitized a lot of primary sources that were at my disposal, so accessing that information was not as much of a struggle. The only aspect that therefore overwhelmed me were the many angles to pursue in looking at Botany Hall which made it hard to form just one cohesive argument. That one narrowed down argument is something that I am still struggling to define and is always being polished and refined in my process towards materializing my research as a final product.

    A lot of my time has been spent contacting other archives or individuals that would be primary sources regarding Botany Hall as well as researching data bases for secondary sources that hold relevance. The biggest problem I have faced that is both a pro and a con is the large amount of autonomy that I have in setting my own work schedule, research topic, and final product that contributes to the larger picture of a digital exhibition on Botany Hall. At this point in the semester, I have done a lot of research and am now just waiting to meet with other individuals and finalize my ideas for my contributions. For the time being, my research questions are whether art can be considered a legitimate platform for conveying scientific knowledge, and what scientific knowledge can be learned from 2D art paintings in this specific style versus other styles, mediums and media such a 3D crafted objects. I hope to make this a more precise and polished statement as I continue my process.

    Categories: 
    • Visual Knowledge
    • Current Projects
    • Academic Interns
    • Dioramas in Context
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh
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    CMoA Visitor Evaluation: She Who Tells A Story

    Museum Studies Intern at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History - Spring 2016

    As an intern at the Carnegie Museums, I work closely with Assistant Curator Dr. Erin Peters on analyzing visitor evaluations of the recent exhibition She Who Tells A Story: Women Photographers from Iran and the Arab World. The exhibition displayed the works of 12 women photographers with themes ranging from personal identity to the social and political issues of the Middle East. In one gallery of the exhibition the museum provided visitor comment cards, each of which corresponded to particular artworks on view. My work this semester has been to code and analyze visitor experiences from these comment cards.

    Myself and two other interns categorized and entered the visitor’s self-reported demographic data from the comment cards by age, gender, location, and other information written on the cards. We then created codes for when visitors responded to a specific work from the show, as well as their general responses to the themes from the exhibition. I broke down the transcribed data further by extracting more specific qualitative information such as the percentages of visitors’ age ranges, languages, genders, and works that received the most response. The quantitative information that we gathered is what we presented at HAAARCH, a showcase of undergraduate research for the History of Art and Architecture and the Architectural Studies programs.

    Once we completed the quantitative aspects of our analysis, we moved onto more in-depth qualitative analysis. Again, we came up with codes but this time focusing more on the content of the cards. I have just finished coding the cards into groups such as comments thanking the artist and/or museum, positive reactions to the exhibition, negative or differing opinions to exhibition content – this includes comments on Muslim traditions negatively or positively, and on political or human rights more broadly – personal stories, quotes, visual analysis and many more. Data analysis based on these new codes is integral to our understanding of the impact of the exhibition on its audience and has proven to be very telling of viewer experiences.

    Dr. Peters has since presented our project in its quantitative stage to the CMOA staff and they have shown interest in hearing about our final results. We have recently been invited to present our project at the Women’s Committee monthly meeting at the CMOA. It is great to see that our work has reached other people outside of the academic audience we presented to in the past.

    Myself and one other intern will continue to work on this project next semester. In the fall we plan to analyze and consolidate the data further. We hope to eventually write everything up as a research paper and then develop a more finalized presentation for the CMOA staff. My time as an intern working on the She Who Tells A Story project has shown me the importance of visitor evaluation and the role it could play in the Carnegie museum’s (or any museum’s) approach to exhibition curation. Our project has served to reinforce the value of evaluating visitor response and also help to establish a process for future evaluation. After Dr. Peters presented our initial findings to the CMOA staff, it seems that future visitor evaluation internships at the Carnegie Museum may be a possibility. This makes my current position even more crucial to the development, ideas, and articulation of our methods for this initiative.

    Our visitor evaluations and analysis could lead to the development of new viewer engagement activities and help us to further understand how demographic data and visitors’ responses can be applied to the planning of future exhibitions. Our research documents the museum’s efforts to present difficult subject matter, such as Muslim traditions and women’s experiences. This data not only provides visitor feedback that can be taken into consideration when approaching sensitive topics in the future, but also reassures the museum that exhibitions like She Who Tells A Story are important to present to the public and act as a step towards being more inclusive. My work on this project has shown me the impact that the addition of simple, interactive elements such as comment cards, can have on visitor reception of exhibitions and why it is important to investigate further into future use of these elements. I have learned so much about museum work, evaluation, and possible museum careers through this experience. I am very excited to continue working on this project next semester and hopefully help the museum create a reliable system for continued visitor evaluation.

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