SIMA is short for Summer Institute in Museum Anthropology.
In the summer of 2013, I participated in a month-long fieldwork at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History as one of the recipients of the museum’s research fellowship. During this time, our cohort had unrestricted access to the incredible variety of artifacts in the museum collection as a component of our research study. In addition to this unique opportunity, the museum also organized various workshops and lectures by distinguished researchers in museum anthropology as a part of the program.
I chose to study Inuit traditional sewing practice by analyzing several traditional parkas dating back to the late 1800s. My goal was to explore the many steps involves when making a parka and how these processes relate to the collective identity in the Inuit culture.
I intended to investigate whether the lived experience and stories that arise from this practice are present or absent on the labeling. For example, the museum generally displays an artifact behind a glass box with a label that may only include a short passage describing its provenance – usually limited to the collectors’ name and the place of origin. The museum labeling scheme rarely captures the role it plays within the context of its originating culture. They are usually written solely from the collectors’ point of view. In effect, the context, the stories that enrich the lived experience within its originating culture are missing from the narrative.
The findings in my study also inform the future process of crafting museum experiences. They provide insights on integrating the plurality of voices into the narrative as a part of the design consideration.