Reading list, 27 May 2018

Michael Savage misses the catch-22 in his own argument in this piece about the politicisation of museums where he says that museums are choosing not to focus on widening their audience and are instead trying to politicise their audiences: Against the Politicisation of Museums. In doing so, it’s typically white wealthy people doing the politicisation, rather than the audience. And there’s the problem: to attract a diverse community (ie, widen your audience) you need to speak to that community (which often includes critiquing the whiteness or wealthiness of your institution). Savage argues that white wealthy people are the wrong people to do the critique, but if non-white non-wealthy people aren’t attracted to the institution in the first place, they won’t be there to do the critique. Anyway, it’s a stupid argument. For a curator to try to step outside their own experience and make their institution more welcoming to more people, it’s not so much politicisation, more just being a self-aware human.

That said, neutrality is called upon in this article as a virtue in museums, ironically enough given the refusal by many to repatriate many of their treasures. Can they be trusted any more than Google with the future of digital scans? 3D Scans Help Preserve History, But Who Should Own Them?

Kate Prior finds that not all is lost for professional theatre in Dunedin as Fortune Theatre closes its doors: Change of Fortunes: Lessons from the Death of a Theatre. The world’s changing people, changing it is. Similarly, newspaper coverage of the arts in decline: Newspaper arts coverage dramatically cut; and the middle-class just doesn’t care anymore: The university library row reveals a seismic shift in NZ’s middle class.

Moana Maniapoto responds to the recent furore about non-Māori taking moko: Of your moko you cannot be deprived. I like the generosity in this paragraph especially:

Pākehā allies exist because they have never felt threatened or diminished because of us. They are comfortable in their own skins. They don’t want to be us or take anything more from us. They understand the history of dispossession and disempowerment at the hands of the Crown and how Pākehā continue to benefit from that.

And before I forget, here are some links I’ve had kicking around about Hobson’s Pledge. To whit, did Hobson ever say ‘we are one people’ as Hobson’s Pledge claim? Probably not according to Debunking the ‘one people’ myth: a historian on the invention of Hobson’s Pledge. Apparently the only record of the phrase comes from an account 50 years after the fact, when Pākehā were searching for connections to this land. And if he did say it, he probably didn’t say it in English, only in Māori and the translation to ‘we are one people’ is very questionable according to Dame Joan Metge’s in Ropeworks – He Taura Whiri:

A fuller English translation would be: ‘We two peoples together make a nation.’ ‘He iwi tahi tatou’ still has application in today’s world, but now we can give it a wider interpretation: ‘We many peoples together make a nation.’

(And hats off to the Internet Archive for saving that article!)

Reading list, 5 May 2018

Rebecca Solnit on US national narratives and who’s controlling them. Whose Story  (and Country) Is This? If you can only skim it go for the pull-quotes:

More Americans work in museums than work in coal, but coalminers are treated as sacred beings owed huge subsidies.

and

We are as a culture moving on to a future with more people and more voices and more possibilities. Some people are being left behind, not because the future is intolerant of them but because they are intolerant of this future.

Moana Jackson reminds us that no one’s right to free speech and freedom should lead to another’s oppression in in e-Tangata: Moana Jackson: No one’s exercise of free speech should make another feel less free:

The dispossession of indigenous peoples was pursued by European states as part of their self-proclaimed freedom to rule the world, but it always involved denying the freedom of those they decided to rule.

Back to Solnit’s idea of people being left behind Peter Gilderdale suggests champions of the humanities face being left behind by a neo-liberal society that simply doesn’t value the arts anymore: The university library row reveals a seismic shift in NZ’s middle class.

Conversely, a new study from the UK study reveals that the black and minority ethnic people comprise only 2.7% of the museum, gallery, and library workforce. Hyperalleric reports in Rampant Social Inequalities Persist in the Arts According to New UK Study. Is New Zealand any different or does the cultural sector remain predominantly wealthy and white?

The Baltimore Museum of Art is bucking the trend and deaccessioning big name works to purchase works from a more diverse community: ‘It Is an Unusual and Radical Act’: Why the Baltimore Museum Is Selling Blue-Chip Art to Buy Work by Underrepresented Artists.

On people leaving the musetech sector behind, Koven J Smith with a few thoughts prompted by MW18 in Is the museum technology sector shrinking?. Some key points I can relate to, anyone who’s tried to maintain a large online product as business-as-usual, is the failure to plan for maintenance or manage expectations, creating “an environment in which we’re now simply tasked with maintaining a lot more than we once were”. That and the point of centralising costs for digital projects into single teams, which draws attention to the scale of digital costs more than when it’s distributed across an organisation with a little bit here and a little bit there.

Pia Andrews provides some big ideas for transformational change across government, rather than tweaking the system we already have, in Exploring change and how to scale it.

And finally a quick wrap on some writing about Anzac and remembrance following the annual WW1 commemorations:

Reading list, 22 April 2018

Late last year I decided to start blogging more, or at least collecting my thoughts on a more regular basis and using this blog as a vehicle for that. What I thought I’d do is try to pick an issue or subject that had come up in the week and reflect on it, record what I thought for future reference, and think through the issue. Typically that mean thinking about something that happened at work. As I’m a public servant, that’s a tricky line to walk – under our code of conduct we’re restricted from commenting publicly on government policy over which we might have some influence, even if just a very small amount of influence.

As I’ve always worked in operational roles rather than policy I’ve been freer to comment than others in the public service. Until now that is, as I’ve started a new role that’s more involved in government policy setting. I’m still reconciling this in my mind, suffice to say I have to default to being more rather than less careful.

But does the public service have the settings right? More and more of our democracy and debates about our society are happening online. Facebook, Twitter, Medium and other online platforms are where critical debates about our future are happening. Public servants are some of the most well-informed people in our society about issues critical to where we’re heading. To exclude nearly 40,000 public servants from online debate, particularly in a country of New Zealand’s size, a country not exactly well-known for healthy public debate, seems unfortunate if not dangerous.

Coincidentally, this appeared in my Twitter feed today: Government blogs and government bloggers, noting that the work of government digital teams has moved increasingly from a technical-process space (bloggable) to a political-substance space (not-bloggable). And yesterday there was news of a ruling in Australia that public servants should be able to comment on government policy if they do so anonymously: Public servants should be free to comment on social media under fake names: AAT. (Not that anonymity really solves the problem – anonymity is very hard to maintain and in any case, it undermines the very authority of thinking that a public servant can bring to a subject.)

However, that’s where we are so have some random links for reading instead:

Catherine Needham writes in the UK on the use of the word ‘customer’ to describes people in civil society: Don’t call me a customer, treat me like a human: rethinking relationships in public services.

Research in from Europe on the very long-term value of public investment in infrastructure: On Roman roads and the sources of persistence and non-persistence in development (bearing in mind Roman roads were a key component of colonisation and empire-building, so do with that article what you will).

From the socio-religious realm, Apelu Tielu responds to Israel Folau and God’s plan for gay people in E-Tangata, reminding Christians that Christ’s teachings summarised the ten commandments into two commandments: “to love God, first and foremost, and to love your neighbour”. Also interesting to thing about Paul (author of the oft-quoted Corinthians) was originally a Pharisee and “struggled throughout his ministry to reconcile the Pharisaic principles of being God’s moral police, and the exclusion of those who didn’t make the moral cut, with Jesus’ inclusive and unconditional love for the sinner.”

And finally – weirdly to this ageing Gen-Xer, there’s a Museum of Ice Cream – three of them in fact: The Post-Millennial Generation Is Here… and they’re working at the Museum of Ice Cream. I can’t even, but the combination of Instagram-friendly environment, minimum-wage precariat workers, and uncritical commitment to an organisation created by a 26-year-old self-described hustler is eerie.

Reading list, 25 March 2018

Courtney Johnston does what she does so well in a talk On Safe Spaces at the Public Galleries Summit in Sydney, organising and sharing her thoughts on a complex topic in galleries around contested interpretation of contemporary and historic art works. Institutions can no longer rely on audiences to accept the classical cannon without question, nor can they commission new works without considering the communities and histories in which they sit.

Museums are increasingly confronting and being confronted by questions of colonisation. Here’s a fascinating case study, The museum will not be decolonised, from Birmingham from people confronting the museum in a city that wouldn’t exist without its colonial foundation.

Here in New Zealand, the Alexander Turnbull Library is looking ahead to it’s centennary: 2018 is 100 years since Turnbull gifted his collection to the nation; 2020 will mark 100 years since the library opened. What are the sorts of questions we should be asking at this point as we look back on the contribution the collection has made to scholarship and research in New Zealand, while remembering that Turnbull was, like many (or nearly all), a white man of means?

Pia Waugh and the Service Innovation Lab continue to break down barriers and work with people beyond our usual structures. LabPlus: Discovery with the Citizens Advice Bureau gives a great run-down of a project with Citizens Advice, noting the difficulty for government to reach some audiences and the importance of serving intermediaries like Citizens Advice.

Well-being is in the news, at least for public servants. Jenée Tibshraeny gives a good short overview of How future governments’ policies and spending priorities will be shaped by both wellbeing and GDP being factored into their decision-making on interest.co.nz.

And finally the Canadians continue with some great work on developing policies for digital government with this on how to assess the impact of algorithms in decision making: A Canadian Algorithmic Impact Assessment.

Reading list, 18 March 2018

Anil Dash writes about 12 Things Everyone Should Understand About Tech, concluding in a hopeful way with this: “If we know that the biggest cost for the tech giants is attracting and hiring programmers, we can encourage programmers to collectively advocate for ethical and social advances from their employers. If we know that the investors who power big companies respond to potential risks in the market, we can emphasize that their investment risk increases if they bet on companies that act in ways that are bad for society.”

Could this spell the end of Cambridge Analytica? Probably not but at least The Guardian are keeping tabs on them: Revealed: 50 million Facebook profiles harvested for Cambridge Analytica in major data breach.

Closer to home, interesting appraisal of where the Iwi Chair’s Forum stand in relation to the Labour administration from Graham Cameron in The SpinoffLabour to Iwi Chairs Forum: ‘Iwi leaders need to catch up with the new world’.

Artificial history

Earlier this week I was at the Digital Nations 2030 conference in Auckland. There was lots of talk about the inevitability of artificial intelligence (AI), which got me thinking about how it relates to history as a subject. Here are a few bald statements and equally bald (and unanswered) questions about it.

Vincent O’Malley used and may have coined the term at a talk last year ‘Fake history’ when questioned by someone in the audience about the New Zealand Wars.

We know from fake news that the Right knows how to mobilise online, much better than the Left, and can flood social media feeds to the detriment of society.

Here in New Zealand, Hobson’s Pledge is a perfect combination of the two, flooding both mainstream and social media with interpretations of colonial and Treaty history that are both wrong and harmful.

Artificial intelligence, like it or not, is a thing. It’s happening (search results, image recognition, social media algorithms, Amazon suggestions are a few examples that most will recognise) and will only become more central to our lives (medical imaging and diagnosis, legal interpretation, internet of things).

As with many new technologies, the cultural sector will probably be slow to adopt it. Equally, the technology industry will probably be slow to see the potential of the cultural sector for AI applications.

How will the documentary heritage sector respond to this challenge? In a future where people will ask increasingly complex questions of their devices, what responses will they receive to questions like “when was New Zealand settled?”, “what caused the New Zealand Wars?”, “why did Māori sign the Treaty of Waitangi?”?

They’re significant and contested questions, central to how New Zealanders understand their country and place in it. But who will be providing the answers? And if (as I hope) it’s the history community and documentary heritage sector, what systems do we need to start thinking about now to meet it sooner rather than later?