I am a hyper-curious person, and curiosity is an important value in my life … as well as an important impact of museums.
But curiosity isn't limited to museums, and can be hard to sustain through adulthood. By sharing some of my curious paths through reading, I'm hoping to reinforce how important wide-ranging curiosity is to our practice and spark new conversations that may seem unrelated to museums, but deeply matter to how we do our work. After all, as museums we cover a variety of topics. Our curiosity should also be as omnivorous!
To that end, here's a new installment of some of my wide-ranging reads (mostly non-fiction) I hope to hear recommendations from you!
Mahogany: The Costs of Luxury in Early America, by Jennifer L. Anderson
The older I get, the more I feel I have head-slap moments. Reading Mahogany was one. Of course it was crop made possible by enslaved labor. Of course it was clear-cut to enable sugar plantations. And of course the harvesting of mahogany has significant environmental repercussions. I was blinded by the amazingly beautiful wood and the furniture and objects it makes possible. Now, I am looking at the handful of mahogany pieces I have, as well as those in museum collections, with new eyes.
The Revenge of Analog, by David Sax
Over the past 20 years, our society has seemed to promote that digital is the future, and analog options are for dinosaurs or luddites. Yet we all live in an analog world. David Sax investigates a hypothesis that analog is often superior, and explores when it is, how, and why. This is, by no means, a rejection of digital progress, but instead an embracing of a hybrid existence that values and supports how we can make choices for our very human lives.
It was interesting reading this book, which is grounded in a pre-pandemic world, and then look at the digital experiment we all participated in during the pandemic. If anything, the pandemic made Sax's case as humans sought (and missed) human contact and IRL experiences. Indeed, the 2021 Annual Survey of Museum-Goers found that fewer than half of regular museum-goers (our most avid fans) participated in virtual content from museums during the pandemic … but they are anxious to return to our IRL experiences, objects, plants, animals, and spaces. I also had to chuckle at Sax's observation that the people pushing digital technology the most are Baby Boomers who are afraid of appearing out-of-step with young adults. Guess what museum-goer demographic participated in virtual content from museums the most during the pandemic? Adults over 60.
Blood at the Root: A Racial Cleansing in America, by Patrick Phillips
This one hit close to home for me, as it explores the racial violence of Forsyth County, Georgia in 1912, when it went sundown, as well as the ongoing "whites only" nature of the county that existed into the 1990s. I grew up about 20 miles away from Forsyth County, and I remember Hosea Williams leading protests there in the late 80s. This chilling book lays out the racial terror that wasn't uncommon in America at that time, and how it continues, even today, to affect this community. I found it difficult to read, yet one of the most important books I've read lately. I'm sending my sister a copy.
Have a suggestion for my reading list? Email it to me at susie (at) wilkeningconsulting (dot) com.
I respectfully acknowledge that I live and work on the traditional lands of the Duwamish people. I thank them for the care of this land, and I endeavor to help museums bring forward a more complete and inclusive history and culture in their work.