Lately, I’ve been spending quite a bit of time working on a bibliographic essay for my Historical Methods class, which has prevented me from blogging for the past few days. This essay is extremely important because I’ve essentially laid out the general direction and research design of my master’s thesis on the Grand Army of the Republic, Department of Indiana, which I hope to start writing within the next month or two. I will share more info on that in future posts.
Yesterday, I spent a good chunk of my day at the IUPUI Student Center, Cultural Arts Gallery, helping to set up a traveling exhibit entitled “Why Guantánamo?” that several public history and museum studies students and myself helped to design. The project is being overseen by the Guantánamo Public Memory Project, but twelve universities across the United States, including IUPUI, collaborated to design and write the text for the exhibit. My class, which worked on the project last semester, created a panel entitled “Guantánamo Hits Home” for the exhibit.
We are going to be hosting an opening ceremony for the exhibit on Wednesday, April 10 at 6PM in the Cultural Arts Gallery. If you’re in the area, check it out. Those of you who want to learn more about the project can look here. A schedule of where the exhibit will be traveling over the next year and a half can be found here. There are also digital components to the project that were contributed by students from all over the country and are worth checking out. Yours truly contributed a short essay on interrogation and torture here. I also wrote an even shorter description of the tragic life of Adnan Latif for a timeline project here.
Here’s a picture of a part of the exhibit:
It was pretty neat working on a collaborative project like this. I was impressed by how well we worked together as a group, and with this being my first ever graduate-level class, I quickly realized that there are a lot of very, very smart people that challenge me to be a better thinker every day. I am truly privileged to work with some of the best at IUPUI.
The project did not come without its challenges, however. Perhaps most challenging for us was coming up with a clear exhibit text that could cogently describe complex topics such as habeas corpus and U.S. Supreme Court Cases like Rasul v. Bush. There was also a bit of disconnect between us in the classroom and the powers that be in New York. We were intending to create an exhibit text that would be fairly political in nature and challenge our audience to think about the implications of continuing to have detainees at this base without giving them a chance to have their due process in a court of law. The final draft came out fine for the most part, and I think it will still challenge our readers to think about post 9/11 GTMO, but the text is more informational and factual rather than emotional and interpretive.
For me, the project demonstrated that when creating museum exhibits, no one will ever get everything they want onto the exhibit. That’s okay. But the process of “sharing authority” between exhibit designers and the voices/perspectives of those who experienced a particular historical event is tricky. In this case, a third dimension was added by having grad students create the bulk of the content for the exhibit. Trying to do justice to the perspectives of those who have experienced GTMO’s “culture” personally and balancing that with the needs and requirements of the GPMP showed me that while the term “shared authority” has become of buzzword of sorts in the humanities world, the process of actually putting “shared authority” into practice is much tougher than I first realized.