Applied Anthropologist at WMA 2012

By: Ashley Meredith – Doctoral Student, University of South Florida

The opportunity to attend the Western Museum Association meetings could not have been possible without the assistance of the WMA Board and Wanda Chin Scholarship they provided to me for the 75th Annual Meeting! The WMA stands out as one of the most committed organizations to professional development and collaboration between young researchers and museum practitioners that I have experienced. I give a big Thank You to the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians and residents of Palm Springs for welcoming us to their wonderfully sunny Palm Springs!

The 75th WMA Annual Meeting marks my first attendance to a conference on museums; I was impressed with how well everyone communicated and encouraged not just networking but meeting and knowing each other! It was a pleasurable experience–the people, the location and the weather combined made the experience complete.

Concentrating in cultural anthropology and people in the Pacific, focusing on the anthropology of museums and heritage tourism, it is important to become familiar with the construction of museum exhibits, the discipline of museum studies and those who work with museums. As an applied anthropologist, I'm honored. Attending the WMA Annual Meeting provided a plethora of opportunities for me to represent the University of South Florida (USF) and to personally interact with museum practitioners. Through this experience, I learned a variety of their creative skills and had the unique opportunity to communicate with them about their ideas towards sustainable relationships between museums and the people represented in them. This conference exposed me to current research on museums, exhibitions, and curatorial responsibilities and will inform me to better address the challenges confronting contemporary museums and sustainable tourism. Upon my return to USF, I shared this new information with my department and certification program in museum studies to promote the scholarship associated with museums. My institution will benefit by connecting with the west coast and diversifying its collaborative research opportunities.

During the conference, I participated in a session to which Tarisi Sorovi-Vunidilo invited me and two students, Marion Cadora and Brinker Ferguson, through our mutual colleague Dr. Stacy Kamehiro (a professor in the Visual Studies program at the University of California in Santa Cruz). This presentation was a result of a course I enrolled in at the University of South Forida (USF) with Jane Simon, the museum curator at USFs Contemporary Art Museum (CAM), and my Master's fieldwork on perceptions of Hawaiianness by residents of Hawai'i Island in 2009.

In my session, I met four wonderful women in research! Their research in the Pacific was unlike any I have seen before attending this conference. Brinker Ferguson spoke on innovative ideas of digital repatriation and its associated issues. Marion Cadora discussed Papua New Guinea and Tarisi Sorovi-Vunidilo discussed the activities of the Pacific Islands Museum Association (PIMA) and PIMA’s collaboration with Pacific Arts Association (PAA). Having this session on Monday facilitated meeting researchers in the Pacific fluidly.

After a day of presentation, Marion Cadora, Brinker Ferguson, Tarisi and her husband, and I shared dinner together in Palm Springs where we learned of Tarisi's work in the Pacific! It was this set of conversations that led four of us to visit Joshua Tree National Park at sunrise just before the next sessions began on Tuesday at 9am in Palm Springs!






On Tuesday, Marion Cadora and I attended Tarisi’s roundtable discussion on museums in the Pacific. In this round table, I met Karen Kosasa who spoke extensively with me about the relationship between tourism and museums. The conference represented a unique opportunity to remain informed on the latest theories and methods in museum studies. Moreover, because other disciplines are represented besides anthropology, the WMA conference was a prime opportunity to meet Academy members who share similar interests and brainstorm about exciting new research avenues.

My main goal for attending the WMA conference was to present the results of my on-going research in museum, tourism and cultural anthropology in Hawaiʼi. This was first time Iʼve found a museum session I could attend that was totally devoted the Pacific and in ways my research focused and it was graduate student panel on museums in the Pacific. As I embark on my dissertation research, this conference connected me with many people working with the Pacific.

The meeting has been the catalyst for several innovative interdisciplinary project ideas as the conference was also a great resource to pursue collaborations. Overall, attending the conference was a great complement to academic journals as a way to stay current with research in sociocultural anthropology, to create contacts with colleagues from all around the world, and possibly to develop new partnerships with different institutions and/or disciplines.


BioAshley Meredith, a doctoral student from the Department of Applied Anthropology at the University of South Florida and participant in the museum studies certification program, specializes in sociocultural research in the Pacific (Hawai'i), Europe, and Central America. She focuses on host-guest perceptions of local culture, the role of museums and policies in shaping those perceptions, issues associated with cultural heritage resource management and organizations involved in governing the identification and treatment of heritage resources such as UNESCO.


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