Guest Blog by Dr. Sharon Dean, Director of Museum and Library Services at the Ohio Historical Society
At the Ohio Historical Society, we do a lot of outreach to make people aware of the great history of our state and the wonderful work we do. Sometimes, those efforts take us to unexpected and wonderful places.
On a recent trip to China to see my brother who lives and teaches there, he arranged a visit to the Guangxi Provincial Museum in Nanning (located in the southern part of China). While there, I had the privilege of meeting with the Directors of Archaeology and Cultural Anthropology who specialize in researching the past and present ethnic cultures of China. They gave me an in-depth tour of the museums collections and exhibits, including stunning early bronzeware (ca. 3700 BC-2900 BC), beautiful porcelain from the Jingdezhen region (ca. AD 15001900) and contemporary textiles from southern China.
After the tour, we had a wonderful lunch in the Museums ethnic garden, featuring foods from 12 Chinese cultures. I couldnt tell you exactly what I was eating, but the food was delicious. While sampling varieties of fish and vegetables of the Zhuang culture, senior Archaeologist, Dr. Wei, and I discussed our respective research and preservation programs, remarking how similar some of our work is. We also talked about some possible collaboration opportunities in the areas of research, fieldwork and exhibits. We began to feel both excited and overwhelmed at the same time.
The Guangxi Museums work with ethnic cultures and Neolithic sites, and OHS work with federally recognized Native American tribes and archaeological places in Ohio, both attempt to gain a deeper understanding of the historical record and create more of an awareness of the richness of other cultures. We also share the challenges of bridging those cultural gaps with a contemporary audience.
It occurred to me that a sister relationship between the two organizations would certainly make us aware of what others in the international museum field are doing, would create and foster strong collegial relationships, and would help us do our jobs better more generally. But doing this work half way around the world would also pose some challenges.
Ohio has at least three meanings in different languages. In the Iroquoian language, Ohio means Great River; In the Sioux language, Ohio means Allies. Both variations seem to be metaphors that would set high goals for us. In Japanese, however, Ohio has the much simpler, and I think warmer, meaning of good morning. Perhaps, at least in this instance, we can start with the small goal of creating mutual understanding which may someday blossom into a much deeper engagement.