Reflections: Second Mesa Corn (2014)

Like any course at U of M, this class challenged us to develop new ways of thinking and critique our previous conceptions about museums and cultural objects. Unlike other courses, this class provided us with an opportunity to communicate and collaborate with Hopi farmers from the source community. By interacting directly with Hopi community members, we were able to apply the theoretical knowledge from readings and class discussion. We learned that knowledge from academic texts is not the only authority on an object. By the end of this course our team was all very eager to learn more. However, we had to balance this with the notion of that some information must stay confidential. We gained an understanding of how museums and native communities negotiate matters of knowledge and power.

We think that many people in today’s society focus on ways to make things happen faster and easier, so it was refreshing to see perspectives on life from Hopi community members.  The Hopi men from Second Mesa that we spoke to emphasized that the way they live now is the way that Hopi will live forever.  While it is certainly nice to have things come along in an effortless way, the Hopi community members help us see how valuable it is to keep traditional views, work hard, and appreciate what you have.


Reflections: Second Mesa Beans (2014)

The semester of working on this project has taught us quite a bit. We have learned there is now a big push for museums and anthropologists to work with source communities in order to interpret and present collections in a respectful and accurate way. Along with these new partnerships came a change in the source of expertise. Nowadays, the museum/anthropologist is not always the only authority on the objects as source communities are contributing as well.

This is a step in the correct direction based on our experience talking with Hopi farmers. If we had not communicated with the Hopi community, our observations about the seeds would probably have been based on their functions instead of on their importance to the Hopi way of life.

These changes also help ensure that the only knowledge made public is knowledge that the community is comfortable sharing. For example, the community members did not wish to share the ceremonial meanings and rituals of certain plants with people outside of Hopi. Respecting this boundary is a major change from the old way of thinking that knowledge should be shared freely.

Lastly and most importantly, we would like to express our gratitude for the opportunity to work on such an educational and intriguing project.


Conversations: Second Mesa Corn (2014)

Written collaboratively by the Second Mesa Corn team

“Corn is life”: a term truly defined throughout our conversation with the Hopi Farmers. Through our discussions with two Hopi farmers, it became clear that corn, something we just thought of as simply being food, is essential to Hopi culture. It was interesting to talk about corn with the men since their respect of corn is innate, while ours was not.  The information collected by Whiting and Jones – a huge list of crops – now seems dry compared to the conversation we had with the farmers. We think it’s fair to say that Hopi gives corn life, just as much as “corn is life.” The information about farming and ceremonial, historical and culinary significance of corn that could be shared with non-Hopi people had much more meaning coming from Hopi people themselves. We learned the way in which information is shared has importance as well. Passing down culture and knowledge through teaching and farming is the Hopi way, rather than collecting and sharing written information. Perhaps this hands-on approach has helped to inspire interest and excitement about farming in younger Hopi generations, such as one of the farmers has done with his grandsons, who are eager to learn and carry on this essential Hopi tradition.

Conversations: Second Mesa Beans (2014)

Written by Alexandra Rosenbaum

The conversation we had with Hopi community members was an incredible opportunity for our group to ask important questions that arose during our analysis of the collections and fieldwork. Moreover, this conversation was a chance for the Hopi famers with whom we spoke to ask us questions about the collections and about our roles in the process of creating this digital archive.

We benefited immensely from this exchange, and all of us came away with a better understanding of the importance of farming to individuals, families, and the larger Hopi community. We delved more deeply into the process of farming itself, the navigation of the line between tradition and modernity (especially with younger Hopi community members), the roles of men and women in deciding what and when to plant, and the different uses of various crops in Hopi life and ritual. In response to the Hopi community members’ inquiries, we exchanged stories of how and where we get our food, which, more often than not, was the grocery store. Regarding the collection and fieldwork, we learned that the Hopi farmers knew some of the community members who were originally involved in the collection process. Additionally, we discussed the Hopi community members’ wish for the materials to be well preserved and undisturbed; they specifically mentioned refraining from removing corncob kernels and tampering with seeds.

All in all, the conversation was incredibly beneficial and elucidating for our group, and we hope the same is true for the Hopi farmers, who so graciously invited us to visit and experience Hopi farming firsthand.

Field Notes: Second Mesa Corn (2014)

Deep Purple Corn

Deep Purple Corn

The field notes were interesting to read, since it gave us background on the different types of corn we are working with. Some corn had a lot of information that was surprising to us, like Deep Purple Corn signifies the direction up. It was especially intriguing since we haven’t thought of corn as something other than food, and perhaps a fall decoration.

However, we were disappointed that some of the field notes did not mention the uses and many did not describe any ceremonial significance. We figured it was possible that some of the corn does not have ceremonial significance, but we were curious if some of the information was just not shared with Whiting, Jones, and Nequatewa. We think it is possible that some of the information is too culturally important for the Hopi to share it with these men.  Coming from a museum background with Western ideas about the dissemination of knowledge, that some knowledge was not available to all Hopi, let alone outsiders, must have presented difficulties for Whiting, Jones, and Nequatewa. While they wanted to understand Hopi lifeways, did these men realize to work with the Hopi meant having access to only certain information?

Field Notes: Second Mesa Beans (2014)

After we viewed the collection of seeds for the first time, we had the chance to work with the original field notes from Jones, Whiting, and Nequatewa. Their notes were extremely detailed and interesting to read, but we collectively noticed a few things. First, we did not know from the notes what their intended purpose was with the collected data. We all found that quite curious. The amount of seemingly mundane data was enormous, but it was also quite inconsistent. Some entries had every blank of the form filled in, and others did not, which seemed strange to us. Sometimes we had problems with the forms because we either did not understand the abbreviations or there were typos in the original notes or with the transcribed version we were using. None in our group know much about plants, so the scientific names or classifications really did not mean anything to us, especially since even the common names did not match what we use today. All in all, we loved the chance to work with the nearly 80 year old notes.

Collections: Second Mesa Beans Team (2014)

Written by Eli Sterngass

Beans and Pods

Beans and preserved pods from Second Mesa

Last week, our class had access to the collections of Hopi plants in the Museum of Anthropological Archaeology, which is not open to the public. I was wowed when my team was first introduced to the collection of beans, melons, and squash seeds. I have always wanted the opportunity to have a hands-on experience with museum collections, and I am so glad Dr. Young gave us the opportunity to work with the seeds. I was amazed at the high degree to which the harvest was preserved. Eighty years is a long time to be in storage, yet the seeds appear to be in perfect condition. This is testament to both the storage techniques used by the University of Michigan and the hardiness of the Hopi crops produced at Second Mesa. I was really surprised at the size of the seeds. For some reason, I thought that crops that grew in such an arid and harsh climate would be smaller or shaped differently. Maybe they are shaped differently and that is why I am excited to begin conversations with members of the Hopi in order to learn more about their produce and tradition.

Collections: Second Mesa Corn (2014)

In actually getting work with the objects, the diversity astounded us. Not only was there a huge variety in the colors of the corn, but the varied uses and properties of the corn highlighted how important it was and still is important to Hopi people.

Something else that intrigued us was the organization of the collection in the Museum of Anthropology versus the organization of our groups in class. Being separated by mesa as asked by the Hopi community, compared to the typological organization of the collection reminded our group of the practices of early anthropologists and curators. When this difference was recognized, it highlighted how our perceptions of the objects in this case, corn changed depending on the context they were presented in. In the museum’s organization, the corn grouped together emphasized the object rather than its cultural context.

A sample of corn collected from Second Mesa

A sample of corn collected from Second Mesa

On the other hand, being grouped by mesa allowed us to see the importance of corn and other crops to the families of Second Mesa. By reorienting the focus to where the objects came from and who used them forced us to recognize that it is not just dried corn in a drawer; what Alfred Whiting, Volney Jones, and Edmund Nequatewa collected were important pieces of Hopi life.