We are excited to announce that the ACHS newsletter will include book reviews of works relevant to the broad field of Critical Heritage Studies.  These will include research in heritage studies, archaeology, folklore, historic preservation, cultural studies, and other allied disciplines.  We hope that the reviews will provide our members with insights into the growing and maturing field of heritage studies; spark discussion on related issues and disciplines; and introduce readers to topics and subjects they may not previously have thought about. To coordinate the reviews, the Executive Committee has appointed Dr Edward Salo, Arkansas State University to serve as our book review editor.  Ed has experience in both Cultural Resources Management industry and academia, including several international projects.

We look forward to making this a regular highlight of our future newsletters, and rely on all our members to be involved.

Seeking reviewers and books

The book review section will rely on members of the Association contributing reviews. This will be facilitated in two ways; by developing a list of potential reviewers, and by advertising books we have received for review on the ACHS website.

If you are interested in registering as a reviewer for the ACHS newsletter please email Edward Salo.  Please include a brief description of your research interests, qualifications, and areas of expertise so that you can be matched with relevant books. Edward will respond with a timetable for review and organise to have the books sent to you.

The list of books we have available for review include:

  • Grove, L., and Thomas, S., 2014, Heritage Crime: Progress, Prospects and Prevention. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

  • Thomas, S., and Lea, J., 2014, Public Participation in Archaeology. Woodbridge: Boydell & Brewer.

  • Smith, J.K., 2014, The Museum Effect: How museums, libraries, and cultural institutions educate and civilize society. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield.

  • Harvey, D.R., and Mahard, M.R., 2014, The Preservation Management Handbook: A 21st Century guide for libraries, archives and museums. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield.

  • Corrado, E.M., and Moulaison, H.L., 2014, Digital Preservation for Libraries, Archives and Museums. Lanham: Scarecrow Press.

Review format

Book reviews will be 500–1000 words and generally in the style of an academic review.  They will discuss the content of the book in the context of current issues and debates within heritage practice and scholarship.  Book reviews should be provided in either Microsoft Word (.doc or .docx) or RTF format. While the content remains the responsibility of the author, the editors reserve the right to make minor corrections and edits, including the right to withhold publication, of submissions.

 

Labadi, Sophia and William Logan (eds) 2016  Urban Heritage, Development and Sustainability:  International Frameworks, National and Local Governance.  London:  Routledge.

In Urban Heritage, Development and Sustainability, editors Sophia Labadi and William Logan assemble 15 essays exploring contemporary understandings of sustainable development from the perspective of heritage professionals.  The volume’s essays address tangible and intangible heritage as an urban condition within the context of continuing development, conflict, and change to societies around the globe.  This conflict and change shapes the core questions in each essay’s case examples.  Additionally, Labadi and Logan aim for the volume to address these questions through consideration of sustainability.  They assert that sustainable heritage can improve social conditions, as well as ecological and economic situations, while noting that the ideas of sustainability and heritage are often misapplied and abused for other purposes.  Their conclusion—that sustainability “should serve as a fundamental principle for negotiating an acceptable balance between development and conservation”—represents one of the most significant issues facing heritage professionals and broader society in our current world.

The greatest shortcoming of the volume emerges from its greatest strength:  the definition (and application) of sustainability to heritage.  Labadi and Logan (2016: 1) provide the reader with a broad description of the link in their introductory essay.  Sustainability requires:

Innovative approaches to management of development pressures faced by urban heritage, as well as…ways in which taking an ethical, inclusive and holistic approach to urban planning and heritage conservation may create a stronger basis for sustainable growth.

They further associate their perspective with the Brundtland Report and Donella Meadows’ approach to systems theory.  This definition and purpose for the volume recognizes the essential and difficult realities that (1) heritage conservation efforts are often exclusionary and culturally damaging and (2) the relationships of people through tangible and intangible heritage relies on a deep context of issues beyond history.  Holistically responding to this definition is a difficult challenge for any practitioner or scholar.  The authors contributing to the volume bring a range of international and subject-area experiences that is essential for the topic with each author demonstrating deep localized knowledge.  The necessary systems viewpoint should push us far beyond consideration of the world as tangible or intangible heritage and history.  While the selected essays each respond to the broad concerns of heritage and sustainability, few advance the relationship within a holistic sense of sustainability and systems thinking.  More than one of the essays leave the impression that heritage should never or rarely compromise—an attitude that seems to contradict the definition advanced by the editors.  Importantly, the essays address the hierarchical nature of power within heritage and sustainable development discourse and applications.  The importance of inclusive, less hierarchical governance processes emerges as a common concern.

The volume, in its entirety, would provide a useful reader for an advanced course in heritage or preservation theory and practice.  The discussion that should emerge from students analyzing and discussing the collected essays in relation to each other will rouse critical thought about the future of heritage policy and actions.  Individual essays by Sophia Labadi and William Logan; Kristal Buckley, Steven Cooke and Susan Fayad; Janet Blake; Matthew J. Hill and Maki Tanaka; William Logan; Pham Thi Thanh Huong; and Yamini Narayanan could stand alone as provoking readings.  For professionals, the essays showcase multiple examples that can be read as cases to guide planning in local settings.  Taken as a whole, the essays in this volume frame a bigger picture of heritage and sustainability in the contemporary world, but the reader must bring a critical perspective to make the most of the challenge the editors present.

Bryan D. Orthel, Ph.D., College of Human Ecology, Kansas State University


Smith, Jeffrey K.  2014 The Museum Effect:  How Museums, Libraries, and Cultural Institutions Educate and Civilize Society.  Lanham, MD:  Rowman & Littlefield,  Xiii. +201, photographs, illustrations, references, afterword, and index.

Jeffrey Smith author does not provide the first use of the term “the museum effect.”  Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett uses the concept in her essay ““Objects of Ethnography”  to explore how the experience of visiting a museum canaffect how we experience other displays in our culture in ways similar to attending a museum.  This pseudo-event phenomenon, for example, becomes evident when we visit a grocery store and interpret the layout and placement of objects on shelves as if they were components of an exhibit arranged by a museum curator.  Smith’s use of the term is relevant to Kirshenblatt-Gimblett’s, but he focuses more on the actual experiences of museum visitors when they view artworks and artifacts to develop wider relationship through the process of attending museum exhibits as well as utilizing similar cultural institutions, such as zoos, libraries, archives, and interpretive displays in parks.  Smith draws from his own expertise as a researcher and educator in the art museum field.  Notably, he led the research and evaluation program at the Metropolitan Museum of Art for almost two decades.  Using primarily quantitative research techniques to analyze visitor experiences, Smith argues that the museum effect stimulates self-reflection in ways that spark our creative imagination to become more deeply engaged with the world around us.  His writing is a vivid representation, itself, of the museum effect’s consequences.  This style is particularly appealing when he uses his own reflections about museums to illustrate the epiphanies that emerge when participating in these cultural institutions.  This depth of his own empathetic and creative reflections contributed to his own artistry in that one of the great strengths of his writing is his ability to present arcane theories as well as somewhat pedantic methodological techniques in highly engaging prose.

The book’s seven chapters emphasize salient conclusions drawn from both quantitative and qualitative approaches within museum studies.  In Chapter Two, he considers how and why individuals visit museums.  After sketching out five typical museum visitors, Smith uses these examples to explain Andrew Pekarik’s typology of museum visitation.  Pekarik and his research team identified the following seven modes for engaging with museums:  information gathering, a quest to view the actual object, a wish to connect with artifacts on display, a need for aesthetic fulfillment, an inquiry into finding meaning in museum visits, a desire for an emotional reaction in the museum experience, and a yearning to fan a creative spark.  Smith augments this discussion with an extensive treatment of John Falk and Lynn Dickering’s research.  They provide five categories for visitors, themselves, and their work shows that aspects of Pickering’s typology can be manifested in different ways by different participations.  In Falk and Dickering’s terms, these viewers may be explorers, experience seekers, facilitators, rechargers, and professionals/hobbyists.  Smith contributes to their analysis by demonstrating how these characteristic orientations to a museum visit are relevant to ways that individuals experience the museum.  He uses these typologies to elaborate on a wide array of processes the emerge through the museum effect to provide some of his most insightful commentary in subsequent chapters.

 Throughout the book, Smith crafts vivid examples, and even a creative thought-experiment, that stimulates his readers to engage deeply in a literary version of the museum effect.  He does this by offering seemingly disparate comparisons in Chapter Three.  How is a museum like a crossword puzzle? He follows this discussion with the questions, “How is a museum like a baseball game?”  His extended analysis of responses to these Batesonian questions yields rich insights into ways that visitors may gain deeper engagements in their museum visits, but he also suggests that these comparisons also illustrate tacit processes of meaning-making that may lurk below conscious awareness.  Smith crafts these early discussions to develop support for numerous insights.  He then provides a more controversial claim by provocatively asserting that the museum effect stimulates such resonant self-reflection that “we become better people”  (101).

It is difficult to accept this assertion at face value.  Smith’s argument that the museum effect stimulates us to reflect on our own selves is credible on more general level.  This self-reflection can be a specific impetus for intellectual and personal growth. Ideally, we may use these new insights abilities for positive consequences.  The obvious problem, which Smith doesn’t actually fully address, is that the claim is too value-laden.  Philosophers, moralists, spiritual leaders, and writers have been asking about the nature of living the good life for millennia, and it’s not clear that self-understanding is related to aesthetic sophistication or, more to the point, moral development.  Although Smith provides excellent examples of selected museum pieces that may contribute to our intellectual growth, aesthetic awareness, and moral awareness, it’s important to also consider how he omits counter-examples.  How does the museum effect, for example, become complicit with the use of cultural institutions for supporting base propaganda?  How are displays of heritage in museums and other representations in civil society implicated in the support of pernicious ideologies?   This aspect of heritage representation is a major element in scholarship, and it given only circumspect attention in The Museum Effect.  Dictators recognize the efficacy of the museum effect in creating their own monuments to themselves as they seek to legitimize their authority.  The content of a museum exhibit, in sum, may outweigh the value of the process of viewing them.  Although Smith’s arguments may be useful to illustrate how museums may contribute to bolstering their regimes, it’s an aspect of the museum effect that needs more development in subsequentwriting.

Outside of this major critique, I wish to affirm that this book is a valuable contribution to museum studies and heritage discourse.  Smith provides excellent resources for using the research on visitor experiences for both classroom instruction and in academic inquiry.  The final three chapters will be especially useful in this respect.  They include potential extensions of his analysis to a wide range of cultural institutions, in a way that perhaps returns back to the original idea of the “museum effect” as explored by Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett (1991, 410).  In these chapters, Smith offers provocative research topics that will stimulate future lines of inquiry about various facets of the museum effect.  The author follows up on these suggestions in a way that is not always common within similar tomes.  Namely, he gives practical advice for designing and completing the research plans.  His focus is on quantitative research methodology, but various lines topics could also be explored through qualitative research techniques.  This final section of The Museum Effect may not appeal to most readers, but it makes the book especially useful for courses in research methodology as well as specific plans for further research in museum studies.

Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, Barbara.  1991.  “Objects of Ethnography.”  In Exhibiting Cultures:  The Poetics and Politics of Museum Display, edited by Ivan Karp and Steven D. Lavine, pages 386-444.  Washington, D.C.:  Smithsonian Institution Press.

Gregory Hansen, Arkansas State University