The Goal: A Balance Between Preservation and Annihilation

The introduction to A History of the World in 1000 Objects got me thinking about a lot of different things: how much of history will never be discovered? How much of history have we wrongly interpreted? Does it matter that it was incorrectly interpreted?

One aspect of the introduction that caught my eye (and my brain) was the notion of whose story gets told. Now, I’ve certainly heard before the the victor writes history. Yet, when MacGregor writes, “Those who are on the losing side, those whose societies are conquered or destroyed, often have only their things to tell their stories,” he encouraged me to think about the destruction of the Native American culture in the United States and what objects of theirs we have left.

Certainly we’re aware of remnants of Native American culture. I remember learning about longhouses and teepees in sixth grade Global History; I’ve never forgotten the “papoose,” what certain Native American women used to carry around their babies, and I’ve seen photos of their pottery. I’m sure you can still purchase pottery, dream catchers, and moccasins made by descendants of the Native American tribes.

But you can also purchase them at chain stores such as Urban Outfitters or Forever 21. You can buy Native American print clothing at the mall, dream catchers as a kitchy souvenir from a cowboys and Indians ride, or a Native American costume to wear on Halloween. Our modern culture has not so much preserved their objects as appropriated them for modern use without a single nod in the direction of the culture from which they once hailed.

For those interested, you can read this article in Time Magazine about the current law suit between the Navajo Indians and Urban Outfitters: http://newsfeed.time.com/2011/10/12/urban-outfitters-taken-to-task-for-faux-navajo-products/

Being tasked with the preservation and the promotion of a historical object of New Paltz, I am determined to keep this in mind as I write my report: it is important that we treat each culture in which our objects were born as equally important as our own culture today. I think it is easy to look back on historical objects and observe them in comparison to our culture, and I believe very valid ideas can be drawn from this kind of reflection. But it is also necessary to put our culture aside to fully understand each object and its origins, to truly appreciate where, when, why, and how each object was created. We must always strive for a balance between preservation and promotion, and annihilation through appropriation.

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Response to A History of the World in 100 Objects

Upon reading the introduction to A History of the World in 100 Objects a few things in particular caught my attention.  I immediately noticed and admired how the colleges of the British Museum map out their challenges in attempting to get a completely unbiased perspective on the history of the world (and almost a disclaimer that such a feat is impossible to attain in its entirety).  To be knowledgeable to think beyond the context of our own cultures and aware that there are other cultures who have voiced themselves differently, or have not been able to voice themselves at all, is imperative when trying to get an unbiased account of history.  Analyzing objects as a way to receive and decipher history is a great and innovative way to attempt this.

Paying more attention to writings than objects is a significant problem that they faced when trying to account for an accurate history.  I thought this was very interesting, as a lot of civilizations and time periods did not use the written word.  Using objects as a way to detail the past sheds a new light on this time periods that equally deserve of a rich history as the written nations.  It also gives a chance to give defeated nations back a voice.

However, using objects to retrieve history is much more difficult than writings, and a great deal of imagination is necessary to put the pieces together.  Fortunately though, the story of New Paltz is not quite so ancient, I believe, that we will have entire gaps of our history completely unaccounted for.  I suppose that we will have the help of both the written word and old objects to construct our history, but we must always keep in mind that our account of history will never be fully complete or accurate, and sometimes we need to remind ourselves that it is possible an interpretation we have is completely inaccurate.  The poem of the jade ring inaccurately being a bowl holder is a good example and reminder of that.  Regardless, there is a poetic element involved in creating a history of things.

The authors of this book’s consideration in trying to get a full history through all the lenses of the world is an ambitious feat, and some of there tasks and problems could be good pointers for our own project.  Such as the fact that which objects survived (typically stone and hardier ones) can add their own personal bias to the history, and the consistent ever-changing meaning of objects throughout time.

Poetry of Objects and the Quintessential Museum

There are two major parts to this introduction that really resonate with me.

The first being the practice of writing on or altering objects to document its history. Apparently this has been done before and I find it incredibly fascinating. The example of the Qianlong emperor who had an interest in history and would actually engrave his own poetry about the bi ring onto the object itself speaks a lot about the documentation of history in the past.

Although the concept of physically marking up an artifact nowadays seems sacrilegious, back then it was likely thought of as a useful tool. Simply writing about an object (on a piece of parchment, for example) does not ensure the object and parchment will stay together for the rest of the object’s “immortal” life, so marking the object itself is the only infallible technique. In the true spirit of this book, what is so telling of the culture and the time through the emperor’s practice is his uncontested ability to do so. This implies that at the time, the emperor’s word was truth, even if he himself acknowledges a lack of complete knowledge about the bi by expressing his thoughts through a poem.

MacGregor writes, “thinking about the past or about a distant world through things is always about poetic re-creation.” This is something that I have seen as a theme for our class. Just as DeWaal does in The Hare With Amber Eyes and as we have been doing with our own personal objects, there is always this hint of speculation that comes with creating an object’s history, no matter what extent of scholarly (or nonscholarly) research is put into discovering the timeline of an object.

The second notion that really stuck with me from this text is the idea of a museum as a tool for creating a better understanding of the world. It is something so basic, yet I have never thought of it that way before. Essentially, a museum is a glorified collection, allowing its patrons to expand their knowledge via objects and accompanied texts. This is the best example of what MacGregor’s “ideal history” should be. Through this project centered around the objects at the British Museum, there is the ultimate exchange of knowledge: the museum acts as the central base showcasing their collection to the public while the experts that would best understand the object meanings can flock from all over to help create a more complete history for these objects.

As we start to piece together New Paltz’s history through objects, I think we should consider ourselves curators. We want our collection of objects to be relevant and come from a variety of contexts. It should also be accessible to not only people in the community, but perhaps others who might be familiar with an object’s original history, before it became part of New Paltz’s history. Then, once the collection and its meanings are assembled, we can hopefully help ourselves and others have a better understanding of New Paltz and its history.

New Paltz village and Suny New Paltz history

First, I really enjoyed reading these wiki pages.

For the New Paltz Village page, while reading the history I wanted to physically walk down the streets while learning about the history. I could almost envision it all in my head.The only thing is the history is so short! I want to know more about the Lenape tribe called Esopus! And I wished they just went more in depth with details of the history of New Paltz and how it came to be. Instead there was a lot of other details on the Newspaper and Transportation. However, when I think about it, New Paltz is a very small town and you could easily walk the length of it. Therefore I guess it does make sense that the history is dwarfed by the sections on New Paltz culture and transportation.

I found the history of Suny New Paltz much more interesting! It was crazy reading about the protests during the Vietnam war that took place in front of the Student Union! And also learning about how the school started off as a education school and then the art programs were added on. Education and Arts is still what SUNY New Paltz seems to be known for .  One of my favorite parts of reading this wiki page is when it talks about all the classes that people could take like video art, dance therapy, clowning, camping, and ecodesign. And these classes were offered by students who were hired and compensated through the student activity fees. I know as students we definitely pay a lot of fees for student activities but cool classes like these are never offered. This was really cool too “A four-acre environmental studies site operated by students and community members under the aegis of the program at the southern periphery of the campus included geodesic domes, windmills,kilns, a solar-powered house funded by the Department of Energy, and more inchoate variants of sustainable architecture.” Unfortunately these interesting projects were taken down in the 1980s when the school took a turn for a more scienc-y turn with professional degree programs in nursing, engineering, journalism, and accounting. For the page of Suny New Paltz itself, I think the page could have gone into other majors that the school offers as everything was really based on the arts and theatre. I feel like even now there’s strange tug-a-war where New Paltz is trying to become more science and medical based, but it has so much art and educational history behind it that these changes would take time.

Mediocre New Paltz

 I cannot say I am too surprised at the short amount of information on Wikipedia written on the town of New Paltz. In my opinion, the town is not too known by residents of New York City and although the town is greatly unique in its own way, it is quite small and usually reserved compared to the busy city that I come from. I always found it odd that the “village” of New Paltz and the “town” of New Paltz are considered two distinct areas and the Wikipedia page does mention this fact. Another unsurprising statistic was that the racial makeup of the town was 73% white. Clearly the town is not too diverse in that sense but at the same time it differs from a segregated white town because the community embraces diversity in so many ways. Probably the most excited piece of information on the New Paltz Wikipedia page was: “New Paltz was the place in which the character Penny Johnson (Cynthia Rhodes) got an abortion in the 1987 movie Dirty Dancing, which was set in the early 1960s”. That blew my mind and now I must re-watch the movie to see if it’s true. The section on “culture” in the page listed several celebrations but had very brief descriptions on them so those could have been elaborated on in a bit more detail. I feel New Paltz does have a vast amount of transportation; being an upstate town. For example, Trailways bus station is incredibly convenient, there’s the New Paltz loop which is not listed but exists and the bus that goes to Poughkeepsie located in town is also great for those wanting to get to the Metronorth. Overall, however, the content in this page was not too impressive.

Now on to SUNY New Paltz’s wikipedia page which was lengthier and somewhat more informative with content that did surprise me. This page informed me on events that seemed quite bizarre to me, such as: “In the fall of 1968, students rallied in support of Craig Pastor (now Craig DeYong) who had been arrested by New Paltz Village Police for desecration of the American flag which he was wearing as a superhero cape in a student film directed by Edward Falco.” Even though the paragraph focused on “student lead demonstrations” in the 60s and 70s, it disgusted and appalled me to read a sentence describing such an event that took place on my campus.­­ Another section that negatively stood out to me were the events that occurred in 1997 that attracted media attention. The first one was a Feminist conference on sex and sexuality that included a workshop on sex toys. I’m all for sexual freedom but I feel a workshop on sex toys does not set the greatest example. The second was a seminar in which New Paltz resident Carolee Schneemann introduces viewers to Interior Scroll in which she takes a scroll from her vagina and reads it to her audience. Although the greater picture of this event was to address: “Lacanian semiotics, gender issues, Marxism, the male art establishment, religious and cultural taboos”, I am not sure if many people would consider this the most educational approach. I do not believe these events promoted educational or positive nationwide attention but rather controversial media attention. I suppose attention is attention but, again, these demonstrations did not stir up proud feelings within me. On the other hand, the statistics and rankings were quite refreshing so that was a plus to see. The page was also fairly detailed in the many buildings SUNY New Paltz has on campus and had photographs of some of the buildings as well. Finally, the Alma Mater was a pleasant surprise and a cute little poem to wrap up the rollercoaster ride that was reading this Wikipedia page. To me, alumni were nothing fancy (besides Joe Turturro of course!).  However I feel there are more positives to the town and SUNY New Paltz that could have been discussed in detail such as the restaurants, town-life, rail trail, MANY clubs on campus and the religious places of worship in town. Unfortunately I do not feel these pages did enough justice to my college.

The History of the World through 100 Objects

As I began to read the introduction to this book, I admit to being quite skeptical. Historically, scholars from the Western world have analyzed other cultures incorrectly by making assumptions based on Western understanding. To project meaning onto objects from a foreign society and create a historical narrative based on our own interpretation is dangerous, which the author admits.

Reading on, I found several concepts discussed which helped bolster the author’s authority in studying objects from other cultures. First, a quantity of items lends credence to an analysis. The discovery of numerous pottery shards on the east coast of Africa as a group was evidence of trade throughout the Indian Ocean; it would have been impossible to reach this conclusion with only one item, or with several shards from different time periods.

The use of new technology in reinterpretting an object is also significant. DNA evidence is being analyzed to identify mummified bodies by scientists today to glean historical information about the ancient world. The identification of the exact boulder in Italy from which an axe found in England was made is a fascinating example of how an object can convey information about early trade routes among diverse societies.

Most important, in my opinion, is the author’s idea of interpreting past cultures through the eyes of people living in the same places today, such as the feather helmet found in Hawaii by British Captain Cook. Asking native islanders about the object’s meaning and significance can shed more light on the truth than any Western interpretation.

Reading the introduction makes me want to read the rest of the book, and since I found it in my local library system, I’ll be able to do so. I think that knowing how these 100 objects were analyzed will help with the remaining work in this class.

The Thread between SUNY and the Village: a New Paltz Observation

Since I am less informed about the Village of New Paltz than my (soon to be) alma mater (which I did not know either; I doubt people know their alma mater until they graduate), I observed the New Paltz Wikipedia page in its similarities to the campus. Since New Paltz is a college town, formed by not just its history but the vigorous youth attracting business to shops and art and culture, I yearned to find connections between the two pages, especially since I know there are plenty of people who stay in the area after school, or students who make up a huge portion of the off-campus population.

Looking at the demographics sections on each page, there is a notable correlation between school and village racial populations (roughly 80% to 73% for White; 5% to 8% African American; 11% to 11% for Hispanic or Latino; 3% to 7% for Asian/Pacific Islander). While one could argue that New York State populations do not change dramatically, unless one lives in a highly urban or rural area, the similarities are striking when most of the SUNY New Paltz students hail from lower New York areas, such as the five boroughs, Long Island, and the lower Hudson Valley. From my perspective, I view SUNY New Paltz as racially diverse; my roommate, who attended a performance high school in the city, was initially shocked by the amount of white students on campus. Statistics could offer a fairly pale-skinned melting pot, but racial diversity remains a slightly biased subject, as a northern Westchester student will be exposed to different cultures than a city-dweller. Statistics strip cultural expression.

The demographics section (on the Village page) also reveals the heavy effects of college students living off campus, as I implied earlier. “The per capita income for the village was $11,644. About 11.8% of families and 36.9% of the population were below the poverty line, including 18.6% of those under age 18 and 12.2% of those age 65 or over. While this is one of the lowest median household incomes in the area, it includes large number of college students who attend SUNY New Paltz, many of whom have incomes that would place them below the poverty line.”

To which I say “obviously.” Nothing screams college town more than an incredibly low per capita income and 58.7% of a population consisting of 18-to-24-year-olds. Most students can hardly afford tuition, let alone pay for their monthly rent, let alone live on their own. Students drastically affect the village environment, perhaps largely on this economic level. There was no information on tax rates in the village (which is troubling on another level, since plenty of locals complain about high tax rates in the area), but one would assume lower cost-of-living to balance out low incomes. The other way likely exists since less of the population can provide taxes, many exempt as students and receiving wages well below the poverty line, and yet the village and town must keep up maintenance not just for its townspeople, but for the prospective students of SUNY New Paltz. The village apparently thrives on the large student population, as it makes such a large majority of residents, and the town must always keep up with the unstable population. None of that exists on either Wikipedia page. Most of the speculation depends on a single bit of information I mentioned earlier was not provided. Yet did that not explain the very complex dynamic of a college town?

Another missing piece: the Farmer's Market, held every Thursday in warm weather. Not only a strong connection between campus and village, but a hint to the environmentally-friendly atmosphere on - and off-campus.

Another missing piece: the Farmer’s Market, held every Thursday in warm weather on the Academic Concourse. The event not only reveals a strong connection between campus and village, but hints at the environmentally-friendly atmosphere on – and off-campus.

While the village Wikipedia page includes several notations of its dependence on the student population, it hardly goes far enough. Similarly, the SUNY New Paltz page hardly interacts with the village environment, making no mention of the effect its students and activities have on the community. Since the college is such an asset to the village, albeit sometimes a burden, at least give credit to the town offering such academic hospitality. Then again, these are Wikipedia pages, not official reports. Still, it is incredibly apparent the two environments intertwine, and should offer such on the SUNY New Paltz page. SUNY Binghamton discusses transportation options on their Wikipedia page; why not discuss taxi services, escort services, and the Loop on the SUNY New Paltz page?

Photo0232There are other small points of mention on the SUNY New Paltz page in particular. First, the “Campus theaters” subsection does not include the newly-renovated Julian J. Studley Theatre, connected to Old Main building. The page includes the completion of Old Main in the section above entitled “Campus,” but perhaps the authors could not detail the theater, which hosts on-campus theater performances (such as Into the Woods by Miami Theater Players in Spring 2012), choirs, lectures, and even the President’s Inauguration in Spring 2012. Second, “Clubs and traditions” includes Student Association and Residence Hall Student Association, but not the United Greek Association, which is the presiding body over the Greek life, even if it does mention fraternities and sororities. Third, not once did any part of the page mention the awesome outdoors environment during the beginning and end of the academic year. Such little facts about students lying down outside on nice days, playing instruments, or throwing a frisbee–it’s a whole new environment when the snow melts and the skies clear–would add a distinct personal touch to the page and resonate the name with the school many students adore.

Indians and Hippies

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The very first thing I found interesting about the New Paltz Wikipedia page is the early development of the town. I always thought the dorm buildings at SUNY New Paltz had funny names, but I also always knew they had to mean something, particularly to the history of New Paltz. Upon reading the New Paltz Wikipedia pages,  I realized, once again in my life, that things are not just named to be named; names are almost always carefully selected to suit a thing in sometimes unexpected ways. When I moved on campus as a freshman, I saw the new dorm buildings called Lenape and Esopus as an option in which to love. They were freshly constructed and beautiful on the inside, but I ultimately decided against them because they were “way too far” – which was a hugely common opinion among my peers. Understandable: they are on the far surrounding areas of the campus rather than in the center. Thus, many students, including myself, chose to live in buildings closer to classes and ignored the brand-new dorm buildings built on the perimeter of the campus, despite all of their niceties. Since then, Lenape and Esopus have dropped out of my mental consciousness completely, until I read the history of New Paltz on Wikipedia and fully realized where the names for these dorm buildings came from. New Paltz was formed in 1678, and while Hugenot settlers were trying to expand the town perimeters, they “purchased a patent for the land surrounding present day New Paltz from a Lenape tribe known as the Esopus” – how funny! It all makes sense now. While someone was trying to figure out what to name the new dorms being built outside the center of the actual campus, they directly paralleled the experience to when, over a hundred years ago, the actual town of New Paltz was looking for surrounding areas to expand their boundaries. In the campus situation, the campus is the town, and the buildings of Lenape and Esopus are the surrounding lands acquired. I thought this correlation was funny and thoughtful, on whoever named the building’s part. It reveals a part of the history of New Paltz I never even thought existed nor even thought about at all. All I could say was, “how… funny.” It really inspired me to look into things more and not just brush off everything as something that is not intimate or carefully named.

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The New Paltz history pages are pretty informative and interesting, however I was really looking forward to how the town garnered its whole “hippie culture” and rock n’ roll façade that is still used so effectively in marketing the town (i.e. The Groovy Blueberry, Rock da Pasta, etc). I was disappointed to see that this was left out of the history of the town, besides the various protests that went on in the history of the campus. Yet, this omission revealed something else to me. It reminded me of the changes I’ve seen in the New Paltz campus since I’ve been here four years ago. The school logo has been changed from an old historical portrait of Old Main to a sciencey, geometric (and ugly) abstraction. The newest school building besides the renovated Old Main is that grotesque pyramid, and I’ve also heard that the school has been trying desperately to promote its engineering, science, and business departments. Combined with the realization that cops have also always ruthlessly focused upon reducing drug use within New Paltz, this all makes me feel as if New Paltz is trying to banish its reputation as a “hippie school” – High Times magazine actually dubbed the school as the #7 “Counterculture College” in the United States. I have been suspecting this for years, and a look at the New Paltz history pages on Wikipedia has finally verified my idea! How fascinating.

http://hightimes.com/entertainment/ht_admin/3027

 

More Than An Object (History of the World)

I have to confess my love for this introduction. Although I am not an anthropology scholar, I did find some sentences which spoke to anthropological studies. “The Caribbean Taino, the Australian Aboriginals, the African people of Benin and the Incas, all of whom appear in this book, can speak to us now of their achievements most powerfully through the objects they made: a history told through things gives them back a voice.” I found this quote to be extremely powerful and comforting because in a sense our work and history doesn’t die with us. We have all this material from early settlers and tribes so we can fully analyze their lives. We can turn away from the empirical analysis and realize that these were actual people who used these items for a purpose or treasured them.

I also liked how the author describes written history vs object history. I like that the author introduced the problem of no textual or written history from early ancestors. Some more of my insights include literate vs. illiterate history. We did have written works from the enlightenment, but groups of indigenous tribes didn’t write or they wrote in a different language. Through objects we can analyze that tool and use it to our advantage in finding the history of these individuals. I completely agree with the notion that we must view history through objects and not through written material, because objects give us a deeper history than what appears on a page. Although not mentioned in the text, textual form is one-sided, but an object can mean different things to a different person—just another thought.

Objects create a significance to the story their told. As I said in the previous paragraph, they create multiple meanings and histories for different people. Textual information is a little tough to analyze since it’s one-sided. Objects also go into deeper meaning. A diamond which was passed down by the royal family was probably found or created by slaves or servants. This creates more of an understanding of the time and I find that absolutely interesting, am I wrong?

I think we can use this knowledge to our advantage. When we encounter an object and analyze its surfaces, descriptions and history we can find out not only what they were used for, but also how they were created. Why use this item as opposed to another? Why create it this way? Was this object passed down? How was this item used and by whom? How can we fully grasp the use of this object? I think that when we do our own research we need to consider all aspects of an object and not just its use by one person. There’s a history behind the person or manufacturer who created the object. We must listen to their voices as well. Were they mistreated? Were they slaves? How did the object get to the person or place who has it now? It may seem like a lot of questions, but you’d have to act like a journalist when researching and finding out all details.

Essentially, go out there and question everything about the object. Ask yourself what do you want to know about the object.

Wiki Pages

For a brief introduction to the town of New Paltz, I thought the Wikipedia page did an okay job. It did have a decent amount of categories to look through, although I feel like many of them could be expanded. One thing I felt was missing was the general “feel” of the town. New Paltz definitely has a “feel” and this is part of its appeal. I especially get this when walking down Main Street. I almost feel like there needs to be a description of Main Street because it is such a main part of the town and in my opinion it is very cute with all of the local businesses and small stores.

I need to comment on the fact that the village area of New Paltz is only 1.8 square miles. That’s tiny! I was curious so I looked at my town’s Wikipedia page… my town is 49.6 square miles! Also, just from looking at my town’s page, I’m seeing many things that I think could be included into ours. On my town’s page, it includes local landmarks in a bullet pointed list and traces back each building’s/landmark’s personal history. I’m sure that there are several historic landmarks in New Paltz that have a fascinating story, so it would be interesting to include this on the page.

The culture section of the New Paltz village page does not do the town justice at all. It mentions “big” events such as “Memorial Day Parade” and the “Halloween Parade” and these are such standard events that most towns have. The culture definitely needs to be described and expanded more. The culture section focuses on events, and there is so much more to culture than just “events”.

Also, I think it’s very strange that we have a sister city in Japan. According to Wikipedia, a sister city is “cooperative agreements between towns, cities, and even counties in geographically and politically distinct areas to promote cultural and commercial ties.” I’d like to know how we came to get a sister city in Japan, and what exactly goes on between the two cities to promote cultural and commercial ties. It would also be interesting to see if any of the old newspapers mentioned in this wiki page are still around somewhere. Maybe they’re in a museum or an archive? It would be fun to try and track them down!

SUNY New Paltz would have some crazy stories on its wiki page (such as the events from November 1997). Although this page was more interesting than the New Paltz village page, I still think that the cultural feel of the school is missing. I want to know more about the bell tower. Maggie brought it up one day and I’ve never stopped thinking about it since then. There must be some sort of history to the bell tower!