Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Paradise Lost

After only eight short weeks enjoying the beauty of Nature’s Mecca, I have been cast from my Yosemite Museum Internship. Although I was only there a short time, I would like to think that my work in the museum has somehow impacted the millions of visitors that journey to the valley each year. By selecting photographs for slideshows, writing descriptions for artifacts to be published in the National Park Service Museum Calendar, and keeping track of the location and condition of artifacts on display, I feel satisfied that I have added to the experience and knowledge of those who took a little time to explore the museum more closely.

My summer experience was similar to most experiences in Yosemite—unforgettable, but between rafting the Merced River, cycling the valley loop, and hiking the Mist Trail I managed to learn a few things about natural history and myself. The current view of museums, which I share, is that their static displays of ancient artifacts and sepia-toned photographs do not convey a deeper connection or understanding of the culture being displayed. However, the Yosemite Museum has been exploring the different possibilities of interactive interfaces for immersive understanding. The Yosemite Museum has a total of four interactive screens, a please touch area and live demonstrators of traditional cultural skills which serve to further submerge visitors into the complete natural and ethno-cultural history of Yosemite.

As a living descendent of the Ahwahneechee, literally “the people of the valley”, it is very exciting to see other cultures excited about Yosemite’s Native history. At first hearing the voice of a child declare, “Look mom! An Indian!”  made me flinch  a little, but then I saw a change while hearing the mother read aloud the descriptions of people and their belongings, and watch the interviews on the screens. The child’s questions turned to challenge her own stereotypes. “Why is she wearing a dress? Indians wear dresses? Why does she have glasses? Do Indians wear glasses? Isn’t that the lady sitting in the other room?” as Julia Parker, a cultural demonstrator, sat playing the black walnut game on a deerskin rug with four other children. I smiled and continued my inventory of the exhibit.

Now that it’s over, I must move on to other things, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that I can’t move very far from Ahwahnee. That means I’ll be headed to the nearest and newest University of California, UC Merced. There I will continue to study the effects of interfaces on cultural preservation and learning as a research associate in the Cognitive and Information Sciences Department, and hopefully continue my relationship with the Yosemite Museum for future projects. I will also be coaching Men’s and Women’s varsity cross country, and collaborating with the Outdoor Experience Program on future Yosemite-related trips. Wish me luck, and Go Card—I mean Bobcats!

The Wahoga Village Project Lives!

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