Wednesday, August 1, 2012

New App Launches Today

From the desk of Kim Gough, Program Developer, Royal BC Museum

Today we are officially launching our newest Royal BC Museum app - Wifarer. Our first app, Aliens Among Us has been available on iTunes for Apple since November of 2011. Whereas the Aliens app is a citizen science project where we are asking users to help us locate and identify the location of alien species throughout the province our new Wifarer app is helping visitors locate themselves throughout the museum.

A year and a half ago we were approached by a local technology development company called Wifarer who had something really neat to offer. They had developed a system that can locate users indoors – kind of like GPS – but rather than using satellites it measures the strength of Wi-Fi signals from within the building. The appeal of this new technology was too tempting and the fact that it was a local company helped to seal the deal. However, mapping out the museum and seeing where you are is only half of what this app can do.

Because Wifarer knows where you are, it can give you location based content. Wifarer is available at a number of venues including shopping malls, conference centres and airports and more venues are on the way. When you are at the Royal BC Museum and you launch Wifarer, the app automatically knows you are at the museum and loads our information. When you are standing next to the Woolly Mammoth, just one example, it alerts you to additional text and audio for that exhibit. Part of my role has been to identify points of interest throughout the museum and then source the additional material to enrich these locations including images from BC Archives, behind the scenes secrets and videos. It has been a big learning curve for me – not only about technology and apps but I also learned a lot about the museum.

Now that Wifarer is live at the museum my job will be to evaluate how visitors engage with the app. Is the content appropriate, is there enough, do visitors still engage with one another and the exhibit or are they all walking around with their eyes down on the screen?

I hope you will come and try it. At this stage you must have your own Smart Phone in order to use the app. It works seamlessly on Android phones and improvements are underway for Apple as the locating function does not currently work with the iPhone. The app is available for free from you app store. Once at the museum you have to log onto our Wi-Fi system and then start exploring. Then let me know what you think.

Monday, January 23, 2012

What The Bones Know

From the desk 
Conservator at the 
Royal BC Museum
I have been thinking a lot about bones lately having broken the tip off my elbow – lost my funny-bone, so to speak. We also have a lot of bone in the lab at the moment as artifacts are being prepared for inclusion in the new archaeology display.

Through human history, bones have found many uses. Bone meal has long been a staple slow-release fertilizer – ground skeletal material providing the necessary phosphorus for healthy plant growth. Bone china uses up to 50% bone ash to achieve its high levels of whiteness and translucency. Before the widespread availability of metals and, more recently plastics, bone provided a ready source of workable material more finely grained than wood and more resistant to moisture: bone needles, scrapers, combs, buttons, handles for cutlery and tools were created by our resourceful ancestors.

Partially cleaned bone strut of a folding fan. 
The distinctive pattern of blood vessels is clear.
Because we are unaccustomed to thinking of bone as anything other than skeletal material, when found in artifacts it is frequently mis-identified. Ivory, from the teeth of many species, is dense, white and hard; it is very finely grained and has been fashioned into intricate carvings and jewellry. Although bones and teeth are similar chemically, their physical structure reflects their different functions and enables us to identify them. Tiny blood vessels radiate from a bone’s marrow - when bone is carved these vessels mark the surface with tiny dark spots and pits. “French Ivory” is neither ivory nor bone but a marketing name for cellulose nitrate, a plastic widely used in the 1920’s and 30’s. “Vegetable Ivory”, or tagua, is the vegan answer to renewable non-plastics; some palms, especially the Ivory palm of the Andean plains, produce a dense, hard, white nut that can be cut and carved. “Whalebone”, however, is not bone but baleen. Like horn, it is a protein similar to hair and fingernails. Occurring in large sheets in the mouths of filter-feeding whales, it is lightweight, flexible, water-resistant and can be cut and shaped. In the 19th Century, it was the perfect material for “boning” corsets.
Conservator Lisa Bengston 
recording the condition 
of archaeological artifacts

Removed from its damp origin, relieved of its original purpose of holding flesh upright, bone is very susceptible to changes in humidity. Heat or dryness will cause artifacts made of bone to crack and split; once acclimatized, however, they will warp and split if they become wet. Light can raise the temperature as well as causing fading and deterioration. In the museum this means that light sources as well as illumination levels must be carefully chosen; exhibit cases are monitored, and in some instances, buffered with silica gel to maintain a constant level of humidity. To preserve bone artifacts at home, keep them out of direct sunlight and away from the heat of a fireplace or spotlight.

Like ivory, bone is very absorbent. Coloured storage materials can stain bone, as can sulphur containing substances like rubber and wool. Acid-free tissue is an ideal wrap and cushion; excessive acidity can harm the calcium carbonate of which bones are composed, and any fibrous material, including batting or fabric, can catch and tear rough or irregular surfaces. Oils absorbed from handling contribute to a tendency to yellow with age. After many years bone artifacts develop a natural yellowish-brown patina which should be preserved. Light dusting with a soft brush is the safest method of cleaning, though sometimes surface soil can be removed with a barely dampened swab.

 My old bones are pretty fragile, but with the help of some stainless steel screws, will soon be as good as new (I am willing to let the patina take care of itself). The bone artifacts will receive much less invasive brass mounts; stainless steel is expensive and not so easily shaped and welded. Look for the new archaeology exhibit on the third floor. It will be ready this Spring and will include many carefully preserved examples of our ancestors’ ingenuity.

A fractured olecranon is no laughing matter 

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

"Lord Save Us from the Et Cetera of the Notaries"

For millennia archivists have struggled with the question of how to appraise and preserve an archival record of local, unwritten custom. The British historian E.P. Thompson, in an effort to explain why respectable local citizens would blacken their faces and poach the King’s deer, [i.e. the origins of the 18th century Black Act] and concluded that the common experiences of local custom supported resistance to the King’s expanding forests. As Thompson famously wrote, “at the interface of land and law is custom.” Common custom, he concluded, was a kind of unwritten ambience.
Similarly, when the French monarchy expanded across northern Europe in the 13th century, jurists attempted to incorporate the indigenous, unwritten customs of independent communities. To accommodate this “law of the land” jurists with some knowledge of customary law, known as coutumiers, travelled across rural France documenting local laws in a process that eventually produced the French Code Civil and ultimately the template for the Civil Code of Québec. The coutumiers shared a common problem. How to document a living custom known only by oral tradition? Medieval scholar Philippe de Beaumanoir in his famous work, Coutume de Beauvaisis summarized the need to capture in text, practices known only in unwritten custom:

It is my opinion, and others as well, that for all the customs which are currently used, are good and profitable, to be written down and registered, so that they be maintained without change, for memories are fallible and peoples’ lives are short, and what is not written is completely forgotten
But coutumiers believed it was not enough to document local custom, the custom must be authentic to be trusted. Once again in the long history of archives, we find a primary goal underscored: to preserve records in a manner both authentic and reliable. To produce trustworthy records from oral testimony the coutumiers turned to a device from Roman Law: the Enquête par turbe. The enquete is a tribunal co-opting the elders of a community to derive a common custom on a subject.

Several wise men, in good repute, are to be called.... The custom having been proposed, they are to declare and honestly transmit what they know and believe and have seen to be the practice …. Upon the swearing of an oath, they are to stand off to the side, deliberate, and communicate their deliberations...

In the enquête par turbe Renaissance French jurists offer us an example of western law trying to apply textual parameters of legal reason around local cultures built on complex personal relationships of land and unwritten heritage. A common expression of the period summarized the perspective of regional French communities experiencing the enfolding French national constitutional program and their loss of cultural authority: “Lord save us from the et cetera of the notaries.”
Once safely recorded on paper, regional custom was secured in an archives and incorporated into national law. Charles DuMoulin, Parisian jurist and advocate for documenting unwritten heritage explained the purpose in discussing the documentation of the local common customs surrounding Paris:
 The text of these customs…have been rendered the most accurate possible. They are useful to reference the original custom, and should be deposited in registers, either in the Parliament of Paris, or in courts and administrative offices of the kingdom. They can even be conserved in specialized libraries and cabinets... they can be referred to in innumerable [circumstances] to reconstruct the verbal process. 
Centuries later, Sir James Douglas was confronted with a challenge not unlike the coutumier: to attempt to reconcile and incorporate indigenous custom into the assimilating textual form of colonial governance. One of his earliest efforts to document the unwritten traditions of First Nations came in the form of the Doulgas Treaties. Since Douglas’s efforts, not unlike the French coutumiers, we have witnessed numerous attempts to document the relationship between local indigenous custom, law and confederation. To what degree did Douglas and his contemporaries capture and articulate the unwritten land practices of indigenous peoples is best summarized by Wilson Duff’s pithy characterization of the Douglas Treaties as “innocent legal fictions”. This type of recognition and reconciliation continues today in the form of  projects such as the BC Treaty Commission.

Raymond Frogner,
Royal BC Museum

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Somethings Never Change

From the desk of Kim Gough, Program Developer, Royal BC Museum

I’ve been thinking about Christmas since July – not because I am a Christmas fanatic, but because that’s when I started working on revisions for our Christmas school program at Helmcken House. Kids from kindergarten to grade two come to learn about Christmas traditions, foods, gifts and games at the turn of the last century. During my research, I looked at a lot of advertisements from the Victoria Daily Colonist, now known as the Times Colonist – a local newspaper that has been in print since 1858.

Often when people imagine Christmas 100 years ago, they picture simpler times, with homemade gifts and decorations and food preserved from the garden. There was that, but as the newspaper will attest, there were electric Christmas tree lights, big bargains for last minute shoppers, imported food and visits with Santa Claus too!

Victoria Daily Colonist, December 24, 1908

Victoria Daily Colonist, December 22, 1907

Victoria Daily Colonist, December 15, 1900

As for toys, a letter from Alexander Grant Dallas to his father in law Governor Sir James Douglas, sent in 1876, sums up what every generation seems to think:

“According to your wish I gave Xmas gifts…to the children, to the amount of £8 - £1 each all round. The present age is so fast and so different to that when I was their age that it is not easy to satisfy them. They ask for watches, steam engines, bicycles etc, but I try to repress this folly and give them books, or anything I think that may be really useful.” (Christmas in Old Victoria, John Adams, Firgrove Publishing, 2003, page 51)

Hopefully, what will never change is that the holidays continue to be a time of people getting together, eating and playing. You may even wish to make a visit to Helmcken House part of your Christmas tradition when in Victoria. Stop by from December 17-31 between noon and 4 pm. See for yourself what has changed and what has stayed the same.

(Helmcken House, the Royal BC Museum and the IMAX Theatre are closed on Christmas Day and New Year’s Day).

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Jim Ryan Fonds

Big Jim Ryan in action at Swiftsure,  Victoria B.C.
For the last few years at the Royal BC Museum, BC Archives we have been talking about cold storage.  One of our goals is to acquire or build a facility for records and other materials that require cool and cold storage.  On the archives side, this mostly means negatives, both nitrate and acetate, slides and transparencies, prints, Polaroids and motion picture film.  Without appropriate storage, these are at risk to anything from colour fading to complete disintegration.
With over 5 million photographs in the BC Archives alone, this is no small task. In December 2010 Archives staff began the arrangement, description and safe housing of over 100,000 photographs that made up the Jim Ryan fonds in preparation for the eventual move into a cold storage facility. 
Jim Ryan was a well-known Victoria character who settled in Victoria, BC in 1949 and joined the Daily Colonist as a full-time newspaper photographer.  He was fired in late 1953 but given a freelance position.  Jim received a weekly retainer from the Colonist in exchange for first choice of his photographs in the paper.  He also had photograph published in Life, the Vancouver Sun, the Province, Liberty, the Toronto Star Weekly and Maclean's.
In 1955, Jim became a friend of, and official photographer to, Premier W.A.C. Bennett.  He took thousands of photographs of Bennett and in 1980 published a book of them entitled "My Friend, W.A.C. Bennett."  Jim was very successful throughout the 1950's and eventually formed "Ryan Bros. Photo" with his brother, Don.  They handled weddings and portraits as well as news assignments and political work.  They also branched out and made films about Victoria's centennial celebrations in 1962 and BC's centennial celebrations in 1971. 
In 1973, Jim joined the Victorian, a small paper which had a brief boom during a printing strike. He stayed with the paper until it closed in November 1977.  He continued to freelance for other papers and magazines and worked on various books of photographs.  Jim died of cancer on July 4th 1998 in a Victoria hospice.

Three staff members and one intern worked on the two large and complex accessions for seven months. The collection was originally housed in various boxes, with rusty paper clips, degrading elastic bands and acidic envelopes holding negatives. Each box was opened, sorted, counted, placed into new envelopes and information from the original source was transferred. Photographs were arranged according to Jim Ryan’s own filing system and described using our new collections management system.  For a while it did seem we would never be finished but the happy day came at last when we put the final labels on sixty-seven boxes of photographic materials. 

Below are a few samples of some reference scans of a few of our favourites of Jim's images, enjoy!

~ Ember Lundgren, Bev Paty & Katy Hughes

Mother Cecelia of the Good Shepherd animal shelter
Photographer: Jim Ryan
Children enjoying winter play

Photographer: Jim Ryan
“Blond Bombshell” aboard HMCS Saskatchewan

Photographer: Jim Ryan
Chivalry in the 1960’s,
Cook and Fort Streets, Victoria B.C.

Photographer: Jim Ryan
W.A.C Bennett at home in Kelowna, B.C.

Photographer: Jim Ryan
Victorians frolicking in an early spring snow

Photographer: Jim Ryan
Wounded, but still on the job!

Photographer: Jim Ryan
Soue Kee, a local businessman, after he was attacked

Photographer: Jim Ryan

Friday, October 28, 2011

Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s National Research Centre Forum

from the desk of
Genevieve Weber

Collections, Research
and Access Services

Royal BC Museu

The roles of archivists are numerous.  This fact is illustrated clearly when archival professionals from places as diverse as Rwanda, Bangladesh and Nunavut all gather in the same room to discuss their varied responsibilities. As Gary Mitchell, Provincial Archivist and Director: Collections, Research and Access Services at the Royal BC Museum says:

The staff at the BC Archives is committed to acquiring, preserving and making accessible the documentary heritage of British Columbia for our citizens and researchers around the world. The work of archivists is vital for ensuring accountability and for supporting understandings and interpretations of British Columbia through the management and retention of its personal, corporate and social memory. 
We embrace the challenges of new information technologies in our ongoing commitment as stewards to this invaluable legacy.  We pride ourselves on providing access to our archival records while balancing our custodial responsibilities of security, integrity, and authenticity.
As Canadians we are privileged to live in a country that believes strongly in the right of citizens to access information and knowledge, while protecting the privacy of individuals.   A recent example of this is evident in the plans of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada to create a National Research Centre.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) has spent more than a decade working with survivors of the Indian Residential School (IRS) system, conducting interviews and providing a safe environment in which to explore the lasting effects of the system on our society.   The TRC has been leading community events to foster education and communication about the IRS legacy in our country, and working with the Government of Canada and the related church groups to gather documented forms of information.  All information gathered will be made available to the public, subject to privacy laws, and, when requested, respecting individuals’ wishes to keep their statements private. 

Part of the mandate of the TRC is to create a National Research Centre in which to store this collection of documents and statements, and to make the information accessible to all Canadians.  In March of this year, before I started work at the Royal BC Museum, I was privileged to attend the TRC National ResearchForum as a private citizen, joining hundreds of archivists, IRS survivors, and human rights advocates gathered to discuss the options the TRC has for this future centre.  Speakers were invited from all over the world to share their stories of rebuilding and information sharing after natural disasters, war, and human rights violations wiped out all documentation of groups of people or events. 

It would be impossible to select the most inspiring of the speakers, but here are a few that were memorable:

Ann Stevenson, Information Manager, Museum of Anthropology at UBC (MOA), Vancouver 

Close to home in Vancouver, BC, the Reciprocal Research Network (RRN) is an online tool supported by a Canadian Foundation for Innovation grant and housed at UBC. The four Co-Developers of the RRN are the Musqueam Indian Band, the Stó:lō Nation and Stó:lō Tribal Council, the U’mista Cultural Society, and the Museum of Anthropology and Laboratory of Archaeology at UBC,. The Royal BC Museum is one of a number of Founding Partner Institutions. It is an interactive and collaborative information sharing source, an innovative way for communities to choose what information is shared, and how it is shared.  Community members can add stories and material, allowing researchers a personal look into the historical and current culture, people, and activities of communities around BC. 

Freddy Mutanguha, Executive Director, Kigali GenocideMemorial, Rwanda 

First opening its doors on the tenth anniversary of the Rwandan genocide, the Kigali Genocide Memorial acts as a museum and archives of the war in Rwanda, as well as a place of healing for the survivors.  Mutanguha is a young man of great passion, and as a survivor himself, the impact of accessing information about the events that took place in Rwanda and the effects of hearing the stories of others involved is obvious to his listeners.  

Catherine Kennedy, Executive Director, South African HistoryArchive (SAHA), South Africa 
Formed to confront the difficulties South African citizens had in accessing information about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission conducted in 1995 after the abolition of the apartheid system, SAHA works to move information out of the archive and into schools and communities.  SAHA also acts as an advocate for better Freedom of Information policies in South Africa.  

Mofidul Hoque, Trustee and Secretary, Liberation War Museum, Bangladesh
The Liberation War Museum commemorates the struggle for independence in Bangladesh.  As there is a lack of documentation about the war in 1971, part of the museum’s educational program includes encouraging children and youth to interview family members about their experiences and donate the results to the museum.  Their mobile bus exhibit is proof that community outreach is possible on an extremely limited budget. 

Madeleine Redfern, Mayor of Iqaluit, former Executive Director Qikiqtani Truth Commission

Redfern spoke of the importance of documenting both sides of the story: many of the events that took place in the north throughout our country’s history are recorded from the perspective of the colonists.  The opportunity to speak and hear the Inuit version of the past led to greater understanding and, often, a sense of reconciliation and peace amongst the people interviewed.  Having all versions presented together leads to greater knowledge for future generations. 

After three days of information sharing, advice, and relationship building at the National Research Centre Forum, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission now has the task of compiling the knowledge gained and making some tough decisions: Where will the National Research Centre be located?  Will it be a physical space only, designed in the traditional style of museums and archives?  Or will a large component be virtual?  Perhaps a mobile archive will be included?  Whatever the outcome, the important thing is that the information will be made available to all Canadians, allowing this crucial part of our country’s history to be learned and understood.  

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

To Chaperone or Not To Chaperone?

From the desk of Kim Gough, Program Developer at the Royal BC Museum

Chaperones are critical to school programs at the museum. they are often required to drive the students to the museum and then once here we ask them to help with the education program. But how? Do the chaperones feel comfortable in their role - if they even know what it is?

There have been many studies on how text, labels and exhibition layout can affect learning, but not so many on the the role and effectiveness of chaperones. During my recent preparation for school program training I've read some interesting case studies including one by Elizabeth Wood. Her 2010 article "Defining the Chaperone's Role as Escort, Educator or Parent" suggests that chaperones behave in these three ways. I have often thought of them as escorts but the idea of treating school program groups more like family groups really struck me.

Considering that chaperones with school program groups are often parents or close family relatives, it seems natural that they would want to interact with the students as well as monitor them. If I were in the gallery interacting with a family I would ask the parents and the children questions and I would also answer questions from the adults while still focusing on the children. Why not do that with school groups?

Chaperones in school program groups can sometimes cause distraction by talking amongst themselves, wandering off or answering questions before students have had time to think about an answer. In school program training this year, I am suggesting to the docents that we welcome chaperones early on - not only as escorts but as participants. Instead of reminding them not to interrupt the program, let's invite them to participate - and when they do participate, let's turn it back to the kids. By acknowledging chaperones and inviting them to learn with us, we may be able to reduce some of the distracting behavior that can take place but more importantly we may be able to increase the learning that happens for everyone in the program.

Have you been a chaperone on a school trip or have you worked with school program groups in a museum? Do you think this approach will work?