In 2013, the Penn Libraries celebrated the dedication of the Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts, named in honor of Jay I. Kislak (Wharton 1943).
In light of current debates about historic record (Who decides? What qualifies? Whose story does it tell?) this symposium will reach out to colleagues working in archives and special collections to reflect on the urgent ethical challenges confronting their repositories around collection building past and present, including description; provenance; repatriation; monetization; the right to be forgotten; and post-custodial/post-colonial archives and print collections.
The keynote speaker will be Erin L. Thompson, Associate Professor of Fraud, Forensics, Art Law & Crime, Department of Art and Music, John Jay College, City University of New York. She is the author of Possession: The Curious History of Private Collectors (Yale 2016) and is currently completing Smashing Statues: The Rise and Fall of America’s Public Monuments (Norton 2021).
5:30pm Keynote Address
The Destructions of Scholarship: Thoughts on the Ethics of Preservation
Erin L. Thompson (John Jay College, City University of New York)
This panel will use case studies to look at issues surrounding the acquisition of individual works and collections by libraries and museums.
Sean Quimby (Penn Libraries), moderator
Anne Brancati (Penn Museum)
Arthur Fournier (Arthur Fournier Fine & Rare)
Derek Gillman (Drexel University)
10:45-11:00 am Break
This panel will use case studies to consider questions around the repatriation of materials, whether looted, stolen, or otherwise inappropriately acquired.
Kathy Peiss (Penn), moderator
Lisa Leff (American University)
Nancy Moses (Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission)
Christine Weller (Penn Libraries)
Lucy Fowler Williams (Penn Museum)
12:30-1:45pm Lunch break
This panel will use case studies to delve into the problematic nature of language used to describe works and collections relating to marginalized people and examine the work being done to remedy this situation.
Marge Huang (Philadelphia Museum of Art), moderator
Dorothy Berry (Harvard University)
Kim Lawson (University of British Columbia)
Kenvi Phillips (Brown University)
3:30-5:30pm: Post-Custodial/Post-Colonial Collecting
This panel will use case studies to explore the burgeoning world of post-custodial practices.
Samantha Hill (Penn Libraries), moderator
Brie Gettleson (Penn Libraries) and Carlos Juárez (Grupo de Apoyo Mutuo)
Samip Mallick (South Asian American Digital Archive)
Jessica Salow (Arizona State University)
Justin Williams (University of Chicago/South Side Home Movie Project)
In August 1967, Mary Slusser, the wife of an American diplomat, photographed a painting on display in the Nepali monastery where it had been consecrated in 1565. A few days later, Slusser encountered the painting “trundled around town on the back of a bicycle in search of a prospective customer.” Although she knew this work of sacred art had likely been stolen from the monastery, Slusser arranged for its purchase and helped it leave the country. Slusser became a respected expert on Nepali art. The painting remains in an American museum.
American scholars, curators, and archivists are increasingly confronting questions about what ethical obligations we now owe the individuals and communities that produced the materials we attend to, including this painting from Nepal. How do these obligations relate to others owed to the donors and institutions that facilitate this attention – and to the materials themselves? Should we give thanks for the preservation of the painting, as Slusser did when she wrote about her role in its history, or think about the damage done by Western demand for trophies of “Eastern spirituality”?
Beginning from the example of the role of scholars in facilitating the trade in stolen sacred artwork in Nepal, I will think through some of these questions about the ethics of preservation with scenarios from my other work, including digitization of threatened cultural heritage in the Middle East, curation of artwork made by detainees at Guantánamo Bay, and protests over controversial monuments.
Erin L. Thompson holds a PhD in Art History and a JD, both from Columbia, and is an associate professor of art crime at John Jay College (City University of New York). She studies topics including the black market for antiquities, the deliberate destruction of art, and the production of art by detainees at the United States military prison camp known as Guantánamo Bay. Besides traditional scholarly publications, she has written for general audience publications including The New York Times, Hyperallergic, Smithsonian Magazine, and bitch, and has spoken on CNN, NPR, BBC, TEDx conferences, and the Freakonomics podcast. She has curated several exhibits of detainee artwork, is a member of the Advisory Committee for the Nepal Heritage Recovery Campaign, and was a Fellow at the Rice University Humanities Research Center from 2017-2018 and a Public Scholar of the New York Council for the Humanities from 2015-2018. Her first book, Possession: The Curious History of Private Collectors (Yale University Press) was named an NPR Best Book of 2016. Her second book, Smashing Statues: On the Rise and Fall of American Public Monuments, will be published by Norton in February 2022.
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Dorothy Berry currently serves as the inaugural Digital Collections Program Manager at Houghton Library, Harvard University. Her work focuses on the discoverability of African American history in special collections, through research, description, and digitization. She is a graduate of the Department of Folklore and Ethnomusicology, and the School of Informatics, Computing, and Engineering at Indiana University, with an MA and MLS respectively. She was honored with Library Journal’s “Movers and Shakers” award, and the Society of American Archivists’ Mark A. Greene Emerging Leader award. Outside of libraries, her work can be found in JSTOR Daily, the Public Domain Review, and Lapham's Quarterly.
Anne Brancati has been at the Penn Museum since 2012, formerly as the Loans Registrar, and more recently as the Senior Registrar as of 2019. Her roles include coordinating acquisitions & deaccessions, as well as overseeing and assisting with other museum-wide collections matters, including loans, collections liaison work, analog & digital records management, collections security, insurance, and inventories. She is a graduate of The George Washington University, with an MA in Museum Studies. Anne currently serves on the Emergency Sub-Committee of the Association of Registrars and Collections Specialists, where she works with other museum professionals to provide programming related to emergency preparedness to the broader museum community.
Arthur Fournier (Arthur Fournier Fine & Rare) is an independent dealer of books, serials, manuscripts, and archives in all fields and genres, specializing in primary source materials related to the transformative cultural movements of the late 20th century, modern conflicts, disruptive technologies, music, performance, and the visual arts. He is a member of the Antiquarian Booksellers' Association of America and focuses his practice in the trade on serving the needs of libraries and research institutions.
Violet Fox is a library cataloging and metadata expert. Her research interests include the ethical implications of classification, privacy in identity management, and the intricacies of zine cataloging. She was previously one of the editors of the Dewey Decimal Classification; in her current role, she edits the Sears List of Subject Headings.
Brie Gettleson is the Latin American Studies Librarian at Penn Libraries. Prior to this role, she was the Social Science Librarian at Haverford College, where she served as the subject specialist and research support member on the Grupo de Apoyo Mutuo digital archive team. She has a PhD in anthropology from the New School for Social Research, during which she investigated activism against femicide in the context of transitional justice in Guatemala City. Drawing on her prior doctoral research experience in Guatemala, she directs undergraduate research projects related to the GAM archive and has traveled with students to work directly with the GAM in Guatemala City.
Derek Gillman is Distinguished Teaching Professor, Art History and Museum Leadership, and Executive Director, University Collections and Exhibitions. He was an art museum leader for almost thirty years, on three continents, and has been involved in the construction and renovation of five museum buildings. Professor Gillman is author of The Idea of Cultural Heritage (Cambridge University Press, 2nd ed., 2010) and numerous articles on art and heritage. He co-edited, with Claire Finkelstein and Frederik Rosén, The Preservation of Art and Culture in Times of War (Oxford University Press, 2022), which includes his chapter “Preserving valuable objects and sites, in times of war and at other times.” He came to the United States in 1999, becoming President and Director of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, America’s oldest art school and museum. From 2006 to 2013, Derek Gillman was Executive Director and President of the Barnes Foundation, stewarding the collection to its new home in central Philadelphia. In 2014 he became Distinguished Visiting Professor at Drexel, and then in 2015 joined Christie’s, New York, as Chairman of Impressionist and Modern Art. In 2016 he returned to Drexel as Distinguished Teaching Professor.
Carlos Juárez is lawyer with the Grupo de Apoyo Mutuo with a degree from the Universidad de San Carlos de Guatemala (USAC). He has led many cases of enforced disappearances in Guatemala and at the Interamerican Commission on Human Rights. He is the coordinator of the GAM Historical Archive, a project based on the collaboration between the German Society International Cooperation, Haverford College and the Grupo de Apoyo Mutuo. In this role he is a National Expert for the German Society for International Cooperation Civil Peace Services (GIZ). He is a regular contributor to gAZeta Magazine in Guatemala and a coauthor of “Historical Memory in the Digital Age,” written for the North American Congress on Latin America Report with coauthors Daniel Alvarado and Brie Gettleson.
Kim Lawson is the Research and Community Liaison Librarian for the Indian Residential School History and Dialogue Centre (IRSHDC) at the University of British Columbia. A member of the Heiltsuk Nation, Kim worked at UBC’s Xwi7xwa Library for more than ten years prior to joining the IRSHDC. Prior to joining UBC, she worked as the Archivist/Librarian at the Union of BC Indian Chiefs Resource Centre. Kim holds a Masters in Library and Information Studies from UBC’s School of Library, Information and Archival Studies, (now the School of Information). Her master’s thesis, Precious fragments: First Nations materials in archives, libraries and museums (2004), examined Indigenous perspectives on materials held, organized, and classified in libraries, archives and museums and is widely cited in the field.
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Lisa Leff is a historian of European and Jewish history, specializing in the history of Jews in France, at American University. She is also Director of the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Leff is the author of Sacred Bonds of Solidarity: The Rise of Jewish Internationalism in Nineteenth Century France (2006), Colonialism and the Jews (2017) and The Archive Thief: the Man Who Salvaged French Jewish History in the Wake of the Holocaust (2015), which received the 2016 Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish literature. She was named American University's 2017 Scholar-Teacher of the Year.
Samip Mallick is the cofounder and executive director of SAADA, a community-based culture change organization ensuring that South Asian Americans are included in the American story: past, present, and future. Working at the intersection of technology and storytelling, Mallick's educational background is in computer science, library and information sciences, and history. He previously worked for the Southern Asia collection at the University of Chicago Library and the South Asia and International Migration programs at the Social Science Research Council. He has also worked as a consultant for the Ford Foundation's "Reclaiming the Border Narrative" initiative. Mallick currently serves on the advisory board for the Library of Congress Connecting Communities Digital Initiative and the board of directors for Clementine Montessori School in Philadelphia.
Nancy Moses is an award-winning author, media producer, and former museum director who writes about iconic cultural treasures and the provocative issues they raise. Her publications include Lost in the Museum: Buried Treasures and the Stories They Tell (2007), Stolen, Smuggled, Sold: On the Hunt for Cultural Treasures (2015), and most recently, Fakes, Forgeries, and Frauds (2020). She serves as Chair of the Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission and was a Visiting Scholar at the American University of Rome.
Kenvi Phillips is the Director of Library Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at Brown University. Prior to coming to Brown, she was the Johanna-Marie Fraenkel Curator for Race and Ethnicity at Harvard Radcliffe’s Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America. While there, she led the library’s efforts to diversify the collections to be more inclusive of racial and ethnic populations across the country. She has also worked with archivists and curators, both within Harvard Library and other repositories, to develop partnerships to increase access to collections about marginalized people, particularly women. An historian, Kenvi holds a master’s in public history and a doctorate in US history from Howard University.
Jessica Salow is the Assistant Archivist of Black Collections at Arizona State University (ASU) Library. Prior to her current role, she was a Specialist with the Community-Driven Archives (CDA) Initiative at ASU Library. She obtained her Masters in Library and Information Science (MLIS) from the University of Arizona and is an alumna of Arizona State University. Her current work focuses on specialized reference and instruction as well as creating a robust collection of primary and secondary resources that document the lived experiences of Black people living and thriving in the state of Arizona.
Christine Weller serves as the inaugural Assistant General Counsel / Copyright Advisor in the Penn Libraries. Christine coordinates support for copyright, information policy, and related scholarly communications activities on Penn’s campus. She offers training and consultative services for the university community about copyright and intellectual property issues, and their impact on the nature and conduct of scholarly inquiry and instruction. Christine also monitors national information policy issues, informs and educates the Libraries and Penn community on their significance, and participates in campus efforts to ensure that faculty, students and staff retain the full benefits of the current and evolving copyright and intellectual property regime. Prior to joining the Libraries, Christine was in private practice with the national law firms of Ballard Spahr LLP, and Pepper Hamilton LLP, practicing in intellectual property litigation, intellectual property transactions, and intellectual property counseling and management. Christine has published and spoken on various intellectual property matters including copyright in the age of social media, copyright compliance best practices, and legal issues impacting higher education in the age of digital learning.
Justin D. Williams (he/him) is a steward of culture and memory and a facilitator of multimedia projects that study personal and communal narratives in order to preserve and elevate their importance in our society. His broad background in arts and culture spans media technology, public programming, documentary production, audio visual archives, and community-based, participatory designed projects. Justin is the Project Archivist & Manager of the South Side Home Movie Project (SSHMP), a community-engaged archive that collects, preserves, digitizes, researches, and exhibits home movies (8mm, Super 8, 16mm films) shot by residents of Chicago’s South Side. He is also a new board member for the Center of Home Movies.
Lucy Fowler Williams is Associate Curator-in-Charge and Senior Keeper of American Collections of the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology (Penn Museum). A cultural anthropologist, she received her Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania. Before coming to Penn she worked at the Indian Arts Research Center of the School of American Research in Santa Fe, and completed internships at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. Among her projects, she wrote the Guide to the Ethnographic Collections of the Penn Museum (2003), co-edited Native American Voices on Identity, Art and Culture: Objects of Everlasting Esteem (2005), developed the online Louis Shotridge (Tlingit) Digital Archive (2011), and curated the ongoing Penn Museum exhibition, Native American Voices: The People -- Here and Now (2014-2021). Lucy has traveled to Southeast Alaska on numerous occasions working closely with Tlingit colleagues who have strong interests in the Museum’s renowned historic collections. She is currently working on a publication about Tlingit Assistant Curator Louis Shotridge (1882-1935). Her research interests include issues surrounding indigenous identity, histories of collecting and representation, material culture, and textiles of the Americas.
Featured image: “Gilgamesh Dream Tablet,” an Iraqi artifact illegally imported to the U.S. in the 2000s