John Fox at the Magnes Collection

As the post-doctoral scholar working at the Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life (2121 Allston Way) I have the enormous privilege of working with many members of the extended Bay Area academic community in organizing a series of informative Wednesday noontime lectures. These “PopUp Exhibitions” are one of the newest additions to the Magnes’s comprehensive list of programs for the Berkeley academic community and the public at large.

The PopUp Exhibitions are a brainchild of our curator, Dr. Francesco Spagnolo. The series consists of twenty-three unique lectures during this academic year, which put into conversation objects from the Magnes, with scholars in their fields and the public at large. The objective is to allow members of the audience an up close and personal look at some of the rare and unique treasures of the Collection, as seen through the eyes of a specialist in that field. The objects are points of departure for the presenters, who each proceed to animate a discussion with the audience about topics of interest to them.

The series began in the Fall Semester with ten presentations. Roughly half of these focused on historical aspects of the Collection, while the remainder showcased a mosaic of different media.

Amongst the presenters, we were extremely lucky to host presentations by five Berkeley faculty members: Andrea Sinn, John Efron, Jonathan Sheehan, David Henkin and Carla Shapreau, As well undergraduate students Christine Liu, Zoe Lewin and Anna Bella Korbatov showed off their work at the Magnes, as part of the Undergraduate Research Apprenticeship Program (URAP).

This semester the series is again taking a multi-disciplinary angle, while also adding a digital humanities focus. This new focus is part of a larger incorporation of the digital humanities into the work of the Magnes.

John Fox opened the series on January 28, with a presentation on Findery, which allows museums to pin digital narratives to maps, using the objects in their collections. Check out photos of John’s talk here.

John’s presentation focused on how Findery can make a museum’s collection accessible to online users and relevant to an audience that is scattered around the globe. He showed us how to use Findery to catalogue different types of objects (such as a print, or a sculpture) and how to use Findery’s extensive referencing tools in order to add metadata to objects.

Anne Wootton, cofounder of the Pop Up Archive is presenting in the series on February 18.  Pop Up Archive, is a Bay Area startup whose software allows users to automatically transcribe, index and tag sound files from anywhere on the web, making the sound searchable to the second. Pop Up Archive has processed over 700,000 minutes of audio in the past two years. Several of the Magnes's sound holdings are included in Pop Up Archive's public index, including the reel-to-reel recordings of Israeli leaders speaking in San Francisco at dinners organized in the 1950s and 1960s by the Israel Bonds Corporation of America and several oral histories originally commissioned by the Magnes. Anne's presentation will showcase the power of audio transcription and the value it has for scholarly research today. Check out the event page here.

Finally, the Magnes Collection is also hosting the launch of the Digital Humanities at Berkeley initiative on February 18, and the opening of a new Digital Humanities exhibition entitled “The Future of Memory: Jewish Culture in the Digital Age”.

The strength of these presenters all lies in their ability to bring a new and fresh angle to the conversations that museumgoers usually have amongst themselves. It is difficult for any museum to display all of its holdings to the public; the series establishes a way for audience members to converse with those objects that they would not generally come across in a display case or a museum publication. All of us at the Magnes hope that you will attend - or at least visit us online at!

Photo credit:  The Magnes Collection for Jewish Art and Life