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A Publication Featuring The Information Services Technology of Maine State Government

Volume VI, Issue 12 December 2003

Line of Holly
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Using Common Technologies Uncommonly To Create a New Traveling Museum Exhibit

By Mary N. Cloutier


Bruce Bourque is chief archaeologist and curator of ethnography[1] at the Maine State Museum, and also is a senior lecturer in anthropology at Bates College.  His profession has been aided exponentially by commonly available digital cameras, database software, and Internet based e-mail.


In collaboration with a multinational, multi-ethnic and multidisciplinary team, the Maine State Museum is currently planning a new traveling exhibit.  Textiles, Clothing and Costume of the Maritime Peninsula will focus upon Native textiles of the Maritime Peninsula, a region encompassing eastern Maine, the Maritime Provinces and southern Quebec.  This geographic region is not well known because it is divided by the U.S. - Canadian border.  Nevertheless it was historically a region of remarkably uniform Native[2] culture, and this uniformity is clearly manifest in the beautiful textiles made there since prehistoric times. 


The material culture of the region, both prehistoric and historic, has become much better understood during the past three decades as the result of archaeological and ethnohistoric research.  Simply put, “ethnohistoric” research enables subject experts to link source data together to rediscover facts.  For example, obscure, recorded historical source information on Wabanaki may be found in private European collections, baptismal registers, state archives, libraries etc.  Starting in 1984, Bruce realized he could not understand if/how these bits and fragments of source material related to each other, unless he recorded information on individuals in a database[3]


This, and discoveries made during field (digs) research (documented digitally) has allowed museums to build significant collections of textiles newly recognized as originating from the region.  Collections from the Maine State Museum, the New Brunswick Museum, and the Nova Scotia Museum will provide the bulk of artifacts for the Maritime Peninsula exhibit. 


The exhibit’s design process will involve extensive consultation (typically via e-mail, often with digital photos of artifacts attached) with appropriate curators and specialists from the Unites States and Canada, as well as representatives from Indian tribes of the region. The Maine State Museum will design and construct the exhibit, and have already included graphics of delicate and rare artifacts into request for proposals seeking professional exhibit designers and conservators (experts in collections’ care.)  They anticipate technology will also be employed as part of interactive museum exhibits explaining Wabanakis culture as far back as 7,500 years ago. 

Digital photographs, and this database were invaluable resources to Bruce while he was writing Twelve Thousand Years American Indians in Maine, which was published in 2001. 


Museum designers also plan to demonstrate linkages between costume and sociopolitical change (which was dramatic throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries with the arrival of Europeans) using ethnographic garments and artifacts, paintings, first-hand accounts, and other media.  They will define “textile” broadly to include woven basketry, snowshoes, and even birch bark artifacts that involved an element of stitching.  After opening at the Maine State Museum, this exhibit will travel to the New Brunswick Museum in St. John, and the Nova Scotia Museum in Halifax.  Other possible venues include the American Textile Museum in Lowell, Massachusetts, and the Musée de l’Homme in Paris.


Questions?  Contact Bruce Bourque by e-mailing  Copies of his book, Twelve Thousand Years American Indians in Maine may be purchased at the State Museum store.


[1] the branch of anthropology that provides scientific description of individual human societies

[2] primarily Penobscots, Abenakis, Passamaquoddies, Maliseets, and  Micmac Indians generally referred to as Wabanaki

[3] Bruce has been working with InforME to make this database available on the Internet, and hopes to have it available in early 2004.


Line of Holly

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