Trotter Multicultural Center

BY CAITLIN C. CLERKIN, IPCAA

The Kelsey Museum is getting a new neighbor! Kelsey regulars and visitors alike have undoubtedly noticed the construction project to the north of the Kelsey on State Street.* In case you missed the official ground-breaking, this blog post will provide a little orientation to the whats and whys of the project.

The William Monroe Trotter Multicultural Center will be moving from its current location (1443 Washtenaw Avenue) to the new facility (currently being built) on State Street. This project is the result of an exciting combination of student activism and the recognition that space and place matter in both rhetoric and practice.

This is not the first time in Trotter’s history that this combination has led to concrete change. Indeed, what is now Trotter Multicultural Center began its organizational life in fall 1971 as William Monroe Trotter House, a Black student center named for the early 20th-century journalist and civil rights activist, on the corner of South and East University Streets. It was founded in the wake of a 1970 campus-wide strike organized by the first Black Action Movement (BAM I), a coalition of Black student groups which protested against discrimination and marginalization of Black students in university policy and university life. The strike led to negotiations between BAM and the University administration. Among the BAM demands were structural changes (e.g., increasing enrollment of Black students to 10% by 1973 in order to match state demographics) and resources that would support Black and Hispanic students, such as the establishment of a Black student center. Not all of these demands have been fulfilled (notably, Black student enrollment has never reached 10%). Two subsequent activism campaigns (BAM II and United Coalition Against Racism/BAM III) took place in 1975 and 1987. (See a recent essay by Austin McCoy about this legacy and continuing activism.)

Trotter House moved to its current Washtenaw location in 1972 after a fire destroyed the first house; it was renamed William Monroe Trotter Multicultural Center to match an expanded mission in 1981. Now, its planned move to State Street is the direct result of Black student activism.

In 2013, students concerned about University inattention to the Trotter facility on Washtenaw organized an initiative, A New Trotter (ANT), with the goal of a new building for Trotter. This goal gained more momentum under the #BBUM—Being Black at the University of Michigan—campaign organized by the Black Student Union (BSU).  For those unfamiliar, the #BBUM campaign was aimed at sparking conversation about race and diversity—and specifically about the experiences of Black students on campus—across the whole campus. It drew national attention to the University, bringing to the fore student priorities for improving diversity and climate and pushed the University administration to respond to student demands. #BBUM culminated in seven demands issued to the University administration in winter 2014; the creation of a new Trotter Multicultural Center on Central Campus counted among the seven.

The importance of space and place was apparent in the BSU’s demand that Trotter to Central Campus: the students’ desire to move Trotter demonstrates that location is meaningful.  In the fields of art and archaeology of the ancient Mediterranean and Near East, we constantly discuss the ways in which locations matter and buildings constitute arguments. Depressingly, many examples we attempt to illuminate with our scholarship show how urban planning and monumental building in antiquity sought to exclude and enhance inequality, rather than to include, integrate, and support. A “classic” Roman example is the high (33 meter) rear wall of the Forum of Augustus in Rome. This firewall is usually seen as serving two related purposes. Built of stone with fire-resistant properties, it may have been intended to prevent any fires from the adjacent overcrowded, lower-class neighborhood of the Subura from spilling into imperial, public space. In addition, the wall blocked the Subura from view, hiding non-elite sights, smells, and people away from the public and especially elite viewers. Thus, this urban “amenity” excluded the Subura from its vision of Rome, keeping it physically separated, while creating differences in physical risk (fire) between the public forum and the Subura.

This phenomenon of spatial exclusion is, of course, not restricted to the ancient Mediterranean—it is a constant in modern periods also, although the specifics and mechanisms differ from place to place and by era. Countless projects, researchers, and activists in many fields have explored, questioned, and fought against this practice; for example, I recently ran across a project that maps residential segregation in 19thcentury American cities. And, indeed, as Austin McCoy noted to the Michigan Daily, the location of Trotter on Washtenaw, away from Central Campus, matches, spatially and physically, the marginal position that students of color experience at the University of Michigan. Centralizing an institution that has supported students of color at Michigan for more than 40 years is an encouraging move.

Relocating Trotter to Central Campus has both practical and symbolic value. On the practical side, Trotter will be closer to students on campus: stopping in or attending Trotter’s many events will be easier and quicker. Easier access, greater visibility, and closer connections to other units by virtue of its location on Central Campus will hopefully knit Trotter Multicultural Center—and its legacy of being an inclusive and supportive space (and the legacy of its namesake!)—even more deeply into the fabric of University life and help it serve more students.

On the symbolic side, the presence of Trotter on State Street makes a physical argument for the integral position of communities of color in the University (in the “heart” of campus) and marks a recognition of the need to support them through institutions like Trotter Center. Trotter has served for years as a “vibrant hub” for students (as Interim-Director Michael Swanigan describes it): it has a long, active history of offering programs aimed at fostering cultural dialogues, spaces for student organizations to meet, study spaces, and, especially, a supportive context for students to build relationships and thrive.

Trotter’s future location on State Street expresses a physical and concrete commitment by the University to include its diverse student communities and their experiences. The University community can do more than just hope that this promise is fulfilled—every person can and should work actively to make sure the University and the wider community uphold this promise of inclusion and support. We can all do this by holding the University accountable when it fails, by acting inclusively, and by engaging thoughtfully and actively in mission of an equitable university.

This archaeologist (writing this essay) is heartened by this move. It reminds us of the power of student voices (we sometimes lose sight of the possibilities of this kind of agency in archaeology!). In addition, a place—Trotter Center, with its long legacy of support for students—is being relocated to a Central Campus space that will help it better fulfill its mission: this is an exciting and positive example of putting spatial rhetoric into practice.

At the Kelsey Museum, construction of the new Trotter Center has meant the installation of vibration monitors (to ensure the safety of the collections), some temporary changes in access, and eager anticipation of our future neighbors. The Kelsey (including the Interdepartmental Program in Classical Art and Archaeology graduate students who lurk in Newberry Hall) is excited to welcome the Trotter Center to State Street!

 

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Note: My hearty thanks to Professor Stephen Ward and Trotter Interim-Director Michael Swanigan for speaking to me about Trotter Center.

 

 

Please see the following links (in addition to those embedded in the article) for more information about the construction project and for further reading (drawn upon in writing this post):

 

http://umaec.umich.edu/projects/major-projects/trotter-william-monroe-multicultural-center-new-multicultural-center/

https://trotter.umich.edu/trotter-on-state

https://trotter.umich.edu/history

“Trotter House Origins,” by James Tobin, in the Spring 2013 issue of LSA Magazine (pp. 35–36): https://lsa.umich.edu/content/dam/lsa-site-assets/documents/lsa-magazine/13spr-fullmag.pdf

“Researching the Truth,” by Dan Shine, in the Fall 2016 issue of Collections, the Bentley Historical Library magazine (p. 16):

http://bentley.umich.edu/news-events/magazine/researching-the-truth/

 

*Never fear, internet people! There is a webcam, so you can watch the work, too!

 

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Ugly Object of the Month – November

BY SUZANNE DAVIS and CARRIE ROBERTS, Conservators

In a world that’s constantly changing, where nothing feels secure and each day brings fresh disappointment, there is one thing you can always count on: ugly objects. These special creatures, who have survived for centuries, if not millennia, continue to delight us with their ill-favored appearances and sheer indifference to political events and world news.

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Fragment of a dolphin. Roman, 32 x 22 x 16 cm. KMA 0000.00.3050.

 

This month’s featured object is a prime example. This grotty bit of dolphin has taken a pickaxe blow or three to the head, sadly. Once part of a fountain, hundreds of years of gushing water have eroded his snout. His pectoral fins are mere nubs, and crusty bits of accretion cling to his cheek and sides. The dorsal fin has been reduced to a sad lump. And yet, this dolphin not only survives but retains his quintessential dolphinness, charming us with his bulbous forehead, squinty eyes, funky nostril, and torpedo-shaped body. Come see this fantastic aquatic mammal for yourself; it’s on view on the second floor of the Upjohn Exhibit Wing.

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From the Archives #24

BY SEBASTIAN ENCINA, Collections Manager, Kelsey Museum

This year, the University of Michigan is celebrating its bicentennial. Founded originally in Detroit in 1817, the University has enjoyed a tremendous history. In that time, the staff, faculty, and students have achieved a great deal, with much to be proud of and to showcase.

Among that storied history are all the archaeological projects the University has undertaken in the last 200 years. The University of Michigan, through its archaeological programs, has been around the world multiple times, visiting fantastic sites in far off countries. It is these projects that are now the focus of our most recent exhibition, Excavating Archaeology @ U-M: 1817-2017. The exhibition is now open to the public, here at the Kelsey Museum. Through this exhibition, we display artifacts gathered together by University of Michigan archaeologists. Some of those objects are from the Kelsey Museum collections, while others are on loan from the Museum of Anthropological Archaeology.

The University still has excavations in some of the countries exhibited in the galleries, but these days, countries like Egypt do not permit artifacts to leave the country.  Instead, researchers must visit these countries in order to study artifacts in local or national museums and storage magazines. But this was not always the case. Back in the 1920s and 1930s, when Michigan first went to places such as Karanis, these countries often permitted scholars to bring artifacts back to Michigan. This is how the Kelsey Museum formed much of its collections.

For this month’s From the Archives, we present records of how the decision was made about which objects would be kept in Egypt and which would be sent to Michigan. The Egyptian government had antiquities staff working with Michigan staff on the excavations. When artifacts were accumulated, they were brought together and arranged according to type (coins, wood objects, ceramics, papyri, etc.). They were then photographed.  Looking over the photographs, the antiquities staff member marked with red Xs which ones were to be kept in the country, leaving the rest to be sent to Michigan. Look closely at some of these photographs and you can still see a red “X” on some of the objects.

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These black and white photographs were later bound into thick books and stored in our archives.  Recently, an intern and I carefully took these books apart and made color scans of the photographs to preserve this valuable information.  In addition to information about what objects went where, these photographs are often the only image we have of certain artifacts.

The Kelsey Museum possesses a long history of archaeological excavations, many of which have been highlighted in this blog. Now, thanks to Professors Terry Wilfong and Carla Sinopoli, these and many other excavations are now available for viewing in our latest exhibition.

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Ugly Object of the Month – October

BY CAROLINE ROBERTS, Conservator, Kelsey Museum of Archaeology

Happy decorative gourd season, folks! In celebration of Fall, my favorite time of year, I’d like to feature an object made of my favorite material: stone. Some conservators like glass and ceramics, others like basketry and plant materials. For me, it’s all about stuff made from those vast mineral aggregates of igneous, sedimentary and metamorphic rock.

This month’s Ugly Object looks, to me, like a fragment of calcareous stone, probably marble. Its label suggests that it was once part of the floor of St. Peters’ Basilica in Rome (imagine that!). If true, how did this chunk of marble get from there to here? The first clue is in the label. It’s a red-and-white hand-written dealer sticker with a cute dotted border. When I spotted it I immediately thought of a label I had seen on another architectural fragment in the collection, the latter one supposedly found at the Theater of Ephesus. It turns out that these two chunks of stone are related. Both were acquired by a wealthy businessman, J.D. Candler of Livonia, sometime in the late 19th century. Candler acquired a number of stone, fresco, and other architectural fragments during his overseas travels, and his son D.W. Candler later gave them to the Kelsey. Separated as they are from their original contexts (by way, no doubt, of some questionable early antiquities dealing), Candler’s fragments and others like them provide useful physical evidence of ancient building materials and technology.

You can learn more about the floor fragment from St. Peters’ in Excavating Archaeology at the University of Michigan, 1817 – 2017 starting October 18th at the Kelsey. And if you’re a stone nut like me, be sure to check out the drawers beneath the Roman Construction case on the 2nd floor for some impressive stone architectural fragments.

 

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KMA 29651, floor fragment, St. Peter’s Basilica, Rome

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A Student’s Summer Internship

BY JULIA TRIEZENBERG, Kelsey Museum Summer Intern

Over the course of my summer interning at the Kelsey, one thing is for certain: I spent a lot of time around pots. “Pots?” you ask. “What kind of pots?” “Do they keep better company than other kitchenware?”

Why yes, they do. I wasn’t surrounded only by pots, either–the project I worked on for over a month dealt with finding new homes for a variety of ceramics from excavation sites in Seleucia, Iraq. An extension of previous interns’ work, I reorganized and housed the ceramics from three of the Kelsey’s cabinets. While that might sound simple at first, it was no small task. Depending on the shape and size of the artifacts, there could be hundreds of artifacts in each drawer that had to be moved individually for their safekeeping. It was especially confusing for me in the beginning because the objects were quite mixed up by shape and size when I began.

With this in mind, I decided to move the ceramics between the three cabinets based on their size and function to see how I could improve future organization. I was able to condense space in quite a few of the drawers, which proved especially helpful as the Kelsey prepares to officially accession some ceramic objects from the Toledo Museum of Art. Final steps included editing the Kelsey’s new database to reflect my changes and leaving behind my procedure and advice to future interns’ work with the collection.

Rehousing these ceramics was one of many things I did while at the Kelsey, but it was a project that gave me specific opportunities to formulate my own plan about the reorganization and work independently to get it done. Other college students spent their summer lifeguarding poolside or backpacking through the Rocky Mountains. This is what I spent my summer doing–and I couldn’t have been happier about it.

kelsey blog postpic

Julia Triezenberg is a junior majoring in American Culture and minoring in Museum Studies. Julia has looked for ways to be involved in the museum world, so she spent this past summer interning for the Registry department at the Kelsey. During her time at the Kelsey, Julia assisted with exhibitions, worked with researchers using the collections, and worked independently on a ceramics rehousing project. Her internship offered her diverse ways to explore a museum career.

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News from the Conservation Lab

BY SUZANNE DAVIS, Curator of Conservation

I love many things about working as a conservator, but Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is not one of them. Thankfully, my colleague Carrie is quite into this activity, which is part entomology and part detective work. IPM is an important part of “preventive conservation,” a phrase that refers to the actions you can take to prevent conservation problems before they ever start. Like, for example, having your valuable library chewed up by book lice.

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Carrie Roberts, Conservator, with a month’s haul of sticky bug traps from around the museum.

Once a month, Carrie collects bug traps from all around the museum and then examines them to see what critters are getting in and where they’re hanging out. We have some repeat visitors: silverfish, spiders, house centipedes…. But every now and then, look out!!! Stranger Danger! Carpet Beetle who could eat all our textiles! Wood-boring beetle who could eat up the wood! Where did they come from??!! Where are they going? How many are there? How close are they to the objects we don’t want them to eat?

These gripping questions – and more – can be asked and answered, all with the help of sticky bug traps and Carrie’s careful tracking. Yes, sometimes STEPS must be taken, and Carrie is on it. That’s IPM. Glamorous it’s not, but I’ll tell you – there’s never a dull minute here in conservation at ye olde Kelsey.

 

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Ugly Object of the Month – September

BY SUZANNE DAVIS, Curator of Conservation

It’s back-to-school time, and town is certainly feeling lively as ~30,000 students return to campus. It’s also the harvest season here in Michigan, where it’s already starting to feel like fall. That is sort of, maybe, a decent lead-in to this month’s ugly object which is…wait for it…some pieces of wheat!

 

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Wheat. 1st – 3rd c AD. University of Michigan excavations at Karanis, Egypt. 3958.

 

This is some bonafide archaeological grain-stuff here and, while it might not be considered a typical museum-quality artwork, I think it looks pretty amazing. According to Kelsey Curator and Director Terry Wilfong, wheat was the biggest and most important crop for ancient Karanis. Egypt was a major producer of grain for the Roman Empire, and Karanis had ten large granaries to store it prior to its shipment to Alexandria and then Rome. Some of this wheat’s brethren might have been eaten by emperors! But if, for some reason, it fails to impress you with its extreme ancient awesomeness, be aware that we also have garlic bulbs and a bunch of other fantastic 1,700 year-old seeds on view. Come enjoy the Kelsey’s cornucopia of ancient – if not always attractive – agricultural delights.

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From the Archives #23

BY SEBASTIAN ENCINA, Collections Manager, Kelsey Museum

In the coming months, the Kelsey Museum is going to be seeing some changes to our neighborhood. The new Trotter Multicultural building as well as the expansion of LSA for their Opportunity Hub will both be commencing shortly. Normally, any construction is nerve-wracking for museums, as vibrations can cause deterioration to artifacts. With this activity being so close to the Kelsey, we will be seeing even more potential movement in the galleries and storage. Throw on top of all this the fact that there will be construction on two fronts, so vibrations will be steady and ongoing for a long period of time.

Small and big vibrations will cause artifacts to move, but the shaking can cause flaking and other breaking to occur. If you wander the galleries and see something amiss, please inform security or notify museum staff if they are in the galleries at the time.  Fortunately, the Kelsey is staffed by high caliber professionals who are already on top of this, and have a plan to mitigate the situation. Thanks to them, we expect to see no damage during this construction period.

For this month’s From the Archives, we look back when the opposite situation was taking place. Back in 2007, the Kelsey was undergoing its own construction. This project affected our neighbors, the students living in Newberry and Barbour Residences, as well as our colleagues in LSA. For the Kelsey, this was a long time coming, as calls for a new building for the collections had been written decades before. Finally, in 2009, the doors at Upjohn Exhibition Wing opened to the public, the culmination of several years’ worth of work.

Those who have been with the Kelsey Museum for a long time will remember that the space where Upjohn is now was a parking lot. About 20-25 cars could fit here, often for staff of the residences and the Kelsey. Much to the chagrin of several people who enjoyed parking close to work, the lot was removed and the new wing went up instead.

Images shared here show the construction at different phases. While construction was underway, Collections Manager Sebastian Encina went around photographing the progress from various angles, including the roof of LSA, the Student Activities Building, the former Kelsey archives room, even street views. We are now fortunate to have this collection of images that encapsulate a portion of our own history. It reminds us how much work goes into the planning and actualization of a construction project. At the time, it was difficult to imagine what the end result was going to look like. Now, 10 years later, we have a whole history in this building already, many stories shared, many names and voices passing through.

 

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News from the Conservation Lab: A Fond Farewell

BY CAROLINE ROBERTS, Conservator, Kelsey Museum of Archaeology

Last Friday we said goodbye to our first-ever summer intern in conservation, Amaris Sturm. Amaris is a graduate student in the Winterthur / University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation, and has a special interest in archaeological conservation. During her two months at the Kelsey, Amaris treated twelve artifacts (many in preparation for the Museum’s upcoming Bicentennial exhibition), familiarizing herself with some of the “bread and butter” activities of a museum archaeological conservator.  She brought thoughtfulness and skill to each of her projects, and approached each new treatment as an opportunity to learn. As is often the case with interns and fellows in the lab, we learned a great deal from her as well.

We will miss having Amaris in the lab, and wish her all the best as she moves on to her internship year at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore.

Thank you Amaris!

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Amaris removes an old coating from a copper alloy dish

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One of Amaris’s treatment projects: a reconstructed ceramic vessel from Karanis

 

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Ugly Object – August

BY CAROLINE ROBERTS, Conservator, Kelsey Museum of Archaeology

This month’s ugly object is bound to give its competitors a run for their money. It is not much to look at, but it’s definitely worth getting to know. What exactly is it? It’s an ancient Egyptian mudbrick.

Mudbrick is a material used in building construction worldwide. It was used in antiquity and continues to be used today, from the painted mudbrick complexes of El Kurru village to my grandmother’s old ranch house in Fresno, CA. The components of mudbrick vary but usually include clay or clayey soil, sand, plant fibers and, in the case of the Kelsey brick, pieces of fired ceramic. Each brick would have been shaped, dried in the sun, and then used to build things. There are countless ancient mudbrick structures in Egypt, including the houses excavated at Karanis.

This mudbrick has seen better days, but it’s fun to imagine what kind of structure it might have been a part of once. Was it part of the wall of a house? A pyramid? We don’t really know. There are a number of ancient mudbrick structures still around, but (as shown by the poor condition of our brick) they can be a challenge to preserve.

You can find out more about the Kelsey’s ancient mudbricks in our exhibition Excavating Archaeology at the University of Michigan, on view starting October 18.

 

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KMA 1971.2.226

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Mudbrick architectural remains at Karanis, Egypt

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