Council for Museum Anthropology Survey Results

Dear Museum Anthropology enthusiasts,

Thank you to everyone who took the CMA survey – we continue to work on planning the first inaugural conference for the Council of Museum Anthropology. Your input is guiding our work, and we very much appreciated your taking the time to participate in the survey! We had 156 responses.  The results are summarized below.

Thank you,
The CMA Conference Committee
Josh Bell, Erica Lehrer, John Lukavic, and Jen Shannon

If you would like the complete survey results, please email Jen Shannon at for a copy (please specify if you prefer a word document, PDF, or powerpoint).

Brief Summary
Each survey question had between 120 and 156 total responses.

Who Responded?
·       77% of respondents are member of the Council of Museum Anthropology
·       32% work in a museum alone, 21% have an academic position, 22% have a dual position in museum and academy, and 17% are students

How much interest is there in a CMA conference?
·       92% would be interested in attending a CMA conference
·       78% would attend the conference if held in Montreal

When is the best time to host the conference in Spring/Summer 2017?
·      65% May
·      56% June

What kinds unconventional sessions sparked the most interest?

Thematic roundtable sessions (5-7 minute contributions with lots of time for discussion after)
Show and tell: museum anthropology experiments
Curatorial dreaming session (moving from criticism to creativity: exhibition visioning sessions)
Paper presentations (with dedicated time for discussion)
Sessions that require pre-circulated paper for more in depth discussion and publication planning
Pedagogy workshop (for sharing ideas and methods in teaching museum anthropology)
Emergent media session (to discuss innovations and challenges of using media in museums)
Problem-oriented sessions - refine position papers into manifestos, tool-kits, action plans

What topics and themes are people interested in addressing at the conference?

Making museum anthropology more visible and relevant in the larger discipline
The challenges of bringing the newest anthropology theory to museum curating
Helping ethnographic museums become, and be recognized, as leaders in discussing pressing social issues for the broad public
Better linking museums, anthropologists, and communities
Identifying and discussing leading edge exhibitions that incorporate contemporary anthropological thought and research

What additional events are people interested in attending?

Behind the scenes museum tours
Museum exhibitions tour and discussion
Participation of non-anthropologist community/museum partners in sessions
Moderated conversations with authors about their new books in Museum Anthropology
Film Screening (Evening event)
Mentoring workshops for students
Student “conference ethnographers” who reflect back to the whole conference at the end
Poster sessions of existing or upcoming exhibitions
Poster sessions of dream exhibitions

Additional Data

For those of you who took the survey early on, based on your suggestions we edited the introductory statement for the conference to read:

How is “museum anthropology” being re-imagined?
What are the discipline’s possible futures?

No longer the sole domain of establishment collections and authoritative keepers, anthropologists and their collaborators -- interlocutors, activists, and artists -- are curating anthropology in the field, the laboratory, and the gallery. Never simply the bastions of conservatism they are often imagined to be, museums have long been front runners in public and scholarly debates about knowledge and power, heritage and identity, representation and creativity. Through their ethnography, archaeology, physical anthropology and linguistics collections, and the communities they foster, museums are increasingly spaces for intercultural and multi-generational dialogues, helping to push new boundaries within and beyond anthropology. This conference seeks to examine the present state of the methods and theory of museum anthropology, and to provide a forum for discussion of their possible futures.

The Council for Museum Anthropology Inaugural Conference asks: What are museum anthropology’s most interesting new practices? Where are they taking place? Who is making them happen? With expectations for outreach and engagement increasing in both humanities and sciences, we seek to re-center museum anthropology as a dynamic, century-old form of public scholarship, the calling-card of our discipline to the broader society. 

We invite contributions that will:
  • discuss the challenges of bringing the newest anthropology theory to museum curating;
  • make museum anthropology more visible and relevant in the larger discipline;
  • help anthropology museums become, and be recognized, as leaders in discussing pressing social issues for the broad public;
  • create better links among museums, anthropologists, and communities;
  • identify existing and brainstorm new leading edge exhibitions that incorporate contemporary anthropological thought and research.

In practice terms, this conference seeks to:
  • take stock of what museum anthropology looks like today, and envision where its futures may lie;
  • create community, expand our networks and deepen the discussion;
  • foster more scholarly exchange and paper production, including involvement, mentorship, and support of students and inclusion of scholars beyond North America;
  • showcase our relevance by highlighting museum anthropology’s cutting edge work on theory and practice on issues such as “collaboration,” “public engagement,” and the “interrogative museum”;
  • unsettle the status quo by privileging and encouraging experiments and outsiders (e.g. artists and cultural activists), and other ways of seeing and knowing, to generate new ideas and directions and identify a new cutting edge.

How many years have you been a CMA member?
2-5 years
6-10 years
Over 21 years
0-1 year
11-15 years
16-20 years

What kinds unconventional sessions sparked the most interest?
Added suggestions for sessions included
·       PechaKucha presentations- 20 slides, 20 seconds per slide, no text
·       Lightening rounds of 4 or 5 PechaKucha presentations grouped thematically with time for discussion
·       Birds of a Feather sessions at breakfast
·       Debate sessions - with pre-circulated topics but not papers
·       Interaction sessions - here's what we are trying and why - what do you think?
·       Wenner Gren conference model – distribute written papers beforehand and discuss at conference
·       Pop-up museum featuring student work or pop-up exhibits
·       Skill-building workshops, approx. 2 hours with a product at the end (exhibit proposal, or syllabi?)
·       Exhibition and demonstrations film and media festival/ screenings
·       Multi-year sessions that aim towards publishing edited volumes or thematic journal issues

What topics and themes are people interested in addressing at the conference?
Additional topics added:
·       How to advocate for anthropology within museum institutions
·       Navigating museum/institutional bureaucracy and overcoming barriers
·       NAGPRA issues writ large
·       Mentoring students in museum anthropology
·       Where does/can museum anthropology take place (not limited to ethnographic museums/collections)
·       Local community and indigenous involvement
·       New technologies in research and display of collections
·       How to make sure the important and contributions of the social sciences are recognized and valued
·       Address the role of anthropology in relation to the biological sciences (ie, in natural history museums)
·       Legal issues
·       The lack of interest in collection-based research in leading anthropology journals
·       The relationship of anthropologists to other museum professionals.
·       What do we learn when community partnerships/engagement fails?
·       How are curators and museums treating seriously dated exhibitions ie. about race, evolution, gender?
·       Museums and re-theorizing anthropology – heighten impact and visibility in publications
·       Explore cross-over interests with other subfields of Anthropology
·       Museum Anthropology as a key arena that explores Indigenous identity, traditions, and fluidity
·       Critical museology; interrogating the prevailing narrative of museums as neutral
·       Envisioning the museum of the future, and the role of museums in the time of the Anthropocene
·       What does the “newest anthropology theory” mean?
·       Does anthropological theory work differently in different types of museums?
·       How to become involved in and sustain museum work while holding a non-museum, academic position
·       Lack of resources for non-STEM fields, and lack of material interpretive/research skills among students
·       Community engagement, inclusion from Native American communities
·       How academics can collaborate with communities on heritage initiatives, particularly contested heritage
·       Commodification of historic (pre-1950) Indigenous creations, effects on markets for contemporary art
·       Museum activism
·       Integrating university museums into the educational and public good mission of universities
·       Tactics for gaining leverage for curator’s ideas within institutional priorities
·       The culture of museums
·       Museums and historical systematic oppression
·       Conflicting discourses between administrative and scientific agendas
·       How archaeological material is presented in museum settings; how do we link past and present?
·       The ties between museum studies and museum anthropology
·       Using discourse that is accessible to the public and community partners
·       Special issues in university museums
·       Indigenous curation and rethinking collections care
·       Cultural revitalization
·       Contributions of museum anthropology to communities outside stable American, and Eurasian societies
·       The role of museums and museum anthropologists in issues of cultural patrimony and heritage
·       How anthropology can facilitate the development of relationships between Museums and communities
·       How to represent what we do as museum anthropologists in a sexier manner
·       Different ways to engage with the field of museum anthropology as an emerging scholar
·       Tangible examples of how to bridge the theories discussed into possible methods
·       We are addressing the same paradigm --curators, collections, programs, exhibitions; what is really new? 
·       Might it be possible for museum anthropology to re-model and re-fit its tool box?
·       Digital Work in Museum Anthropology
·       The future of publishing in Museum Anthropology
·       Relationship between Museum Anth. and neighboring fields (Art History, Folklore, European Ethnology)
·       Collections research strategies
·       The use of media in museum anthropology
·       Media and community collaboration/repatriation
·       New pedagogical methods

Some Additional, General Suggestions from Participants in the Survey:

Avoid framing as challenges, they will arise; choose a limited number of themes to focus on.

Anthropological discourse, such as the statement opening this survey, is often off-putting to non-academics, including indigenous people. It obscures common issues of interest. Drop the stylized discourse, which is used to signal to other highly specialized academics. Focus on clear communication of core ideas with a wider audience.

I would be most likely to attend if I knew there were particular themes/topics that would be directly applicable to my own interests.

A substantial online presence for the conference that extends beyond the time and borders of the conference would be incredibly useful - as a place to post links to papers, photo tours of exhibits and object collections, and summarize the proceedings for future reference. If you are writing grants to fund the conference, I strongly encourage budgeting sufficient funds to build and maintain a robust conference website.

A special issue of the JMA as a result of the conference could help participation.

An effort needs to be made to include community members in presentations. They should not have to be members, and it would be great if we could offer some scholarship funds to offset travel costs and waive any registration fee.

I understand that CMA wishes to be a leader here, CMA might consider partnering with other international organizations that have museums as part of their structure so that this conference is not seen to be Eurocentric. The World Archaeological Congress, for example, had a very successful Inter-Congress in 2011 on Museums and Indigenous People. Other similar organizations  might have real interest in being involved.

Great idea. Do not restrict it to CMA member but have registration be low enough to attract potential new CM Members.  Also please avoid scheduling it in April or May.  Too much competition then...with SCA, CASCA, AES.

CMA should consider how marginalized they are within AAA as a whole and address that gap.

Great idea, thanks for putting this together.    Would love to see some of our European, Asian, African colleagues attend - folks who do pertinent work but are not based in North America.

I opted for not restricting the conference to CMA members because some of those who should be involved would be from allied fields (e.g. Native American Studies) or other museum communities (art museums, historical museums).

I am very pleased to see that a conference of this nature is being organized. I believe CMA members could learn a lot from also looking at the several conferences that have been taking place in the UK and Europe over the past few years on the contemporary relevance of ethnographic collections and museums. Thank you for doing this.

Love this idea. Can we go on walking tours? Are sessions critical of anthropology in museums OK?

As someone who has been to dozens of museum conferences from state to national level I can tell you emphatically that we DO NOT NEED another conference that is devoted to self-congratulatory show and tell. I don't care what hip new idea someone has tried if there is no research into its efficacy. Did it meet its goals? How can you tell? How do these results add to our understanding of anthropology in museums?

I would prefer a more central US location, and more meetings in the future.

I wonder sometimes whether the public is ready for the kind of work we want to do and whether our exhibits and programs actually have the desired effects.  Exactly how to use exhibitions to engage the public and get them to question what they know or why they think that way would be a great topic to address.

Make sure to have funding for Indigenous academics and community members to come and participate.

Not being forced to have concurrent sessions would be helpful.

Please think about attaching this to the AAA meetings, the day before. This is the only way that many of us will be able to partake in such a would also make it more do-able for students, who have still more limited budgets.

I would favor making this a joint meeting between the CMA and the Museum Ethnographers Group and the Folklore and Museums Section of the American Folklore Society.

CMA is a great community and this conference is a good idea. Thank you for coordinating!
Very excited to hear about this and looking forward to attending if possible!

We are too!  Thanks again for all your contributions.