This is me (with faded cat make-up from Bingham Halloween coffee hour) being VERY excited about having the phone number of Dr. Julian Raby, the director of the Freer and Sackler Galleries at the Smithsonian. This field work term, I’m going to do an independent study in Washington, D.C. to either work with or interview Dr. Raby (if he’ll let me) on his proposed exhibition of the Belitung shipwreck, “Shipwrecked: Tang Treasures and Monsoon Winds.”
The Belitung shipwreck dates to between 700 and 900 CE, and is one of the most important shipwrecks in Southeast Asia. It’s 60,000 Chinese ceramics in an Arab dhow ship indicate there was sea trade between the Tang Dynasty in China and the Arab world. However, the shipwreck was unscientifically excavated by a commercial salvage company hired by Indonesia, which has created a backlash among U.S. academics who don’t want to see unscientifically excavated objects exhibited in the Smithsonian. I think this exhibition is significant because it may actually be a tipping point in the rift between the museum world and archaeologists, and could possibly revolutionize how museums approach the origins and histories of ancient objects. I am focusing on “Shipwrecked” as a case study to research how a single institution reacts to the criticism of colleagues and the public, how it will eventually approach the objects in this controversial collection, and what this particular instance says about the relationship between museum professionals and archaeologists and the slowly altering ethics of museums in the 21st century.
As you can see, THIS STUFF REALLY EXCITES ME. You can read more about my excitement, my research, and my mouthing off to bitchy commenters on my blog: www.thingsyoucanttakeback.com.