Internship Update #1

Over the past few weeks, I’ve continued to come up to speed on In Slavery’s Wake (ISW). I’ve been able to read the full exhibit script (over one hundred pages plus supporting images of items and images), help copyedit the exhibit signage, and sit in on internal team meetings and meetings with external contractors. I’m excited by the exhibit’s contents and point of view and particularly appreciate that the contributors are working to set aside their U.S. backgrounds and be conscious of how the exhibit will connect differently with people in all the museums it will be displayed in. Beyond selecting narrative examples from around the Atlantic, we’re trying to select artifacts and images that have little to no text and don’t rely on text to convey their meaning.

More concretely, I’ve started contributing to the exhibit by doing research for an interactive element. The last section of ISW is themed around “Building Futures,” and one display in that section concerns Black freedom movements. That display will include an interactive touchscreen displaying information about those freedom movements – including their geographic origins, interconnections, and spread – on an map. The ISW script laid out the categories and types of movements to be included, but I’ve been fleshing out some specifics. It’s been an interesting conceptual exercise trying to reduce movements, some much more philosophical and ideological, to points on a map with just 50 words of explanation. For instance, to map the spread of Black Power – a set of overlapping political ideals more than a concrete organization or set philosophy – I located both speaking tours of people who espoused it and the founding locations of organizations most associated with the movement.

Probably my favorite part of the internship so far has been learning about the vast number of elements involved in putting together a professional museum exhibit. As I wrote about in my last post, I was unaware of the scope of curatorial and design work, and it’s been interesting to see the various teams and their viewpoints interact. While I continue working with the ISW team, I want to keep in mind this perspective and continue to see how the different pieces of the exhibit – physical, personnel, and conceptual – work together. I’ve worked in a large development team before, when I was a software engineer, and in joint academic-technical teams, but this project combines academic-technical collaboration with the large scale I saw in software. Because of that combination, the team interaction is much more complex: the different perspectives get multiplied by the scale. I want to stay mindful of how that complexity works and is managed.