Maymester Spotlight: Collections, Collectors, and Collecting

A collection of presidential campaign buttons

How can you adapt a three-week intensive, site-visit based course for online delivery? Due to Covid-19, this was the challenge faced this spring by MALS Director Michael Garval’s Maymester MALS Seminar on “Collections, Collectors, and Collecting.”  

Working in collaboration with MALS student and course assistant Ani Ibarra, Garval redesigned the seminar to combine online synchronous (i.e. “live”) sessions with asynchronous activities (pre-recorded presentations, forum posts, etc.), weaving together class discussion, guest lectures, virtual visits and writing workshop exercises. While covering the usual three units — “Histories and Cultures of Collecting,” “Collection and Consumption,” and “From Physical to Virtual Collection” — this year’s seminar focused in particular on the latter, exploring how the pandemic has spurred museums, libraries and archives to make more of their holdings available online, to a public unable to visit in person.

Maymester 2020’s success also owes a great deal to the generous participation of these engaging guest speakers:

  • MALS student Victoria Vojnovich and MALS alumnus David Hunt 
  • Outreach and Engagement Librarian Virginia Ferris, University Archivist Todd Kosmerick, and Curator and Associate Head Gwyneth Thayer, all from NC State’s Special Collections Resource Center 
  • NC State historian of science Professor William Kimler
  • Mary Hauser, Registrar and Associate Director, and Zoe Starling, Curator of Education, from NC State’s Gregg Museum of Art and Design
  • Foreign Languages and Literatures and MALS Professor Shelley Garrigan, examining the role of museums in the creation of Mexican national identity
  • American folk art building collectors Steven Burke and Randy Campbell 
  • Film and Interdisciplinary Studies professor Marsha Gordon and her husband, the architect Louis Cherry, discussing their documentary Rendered Small, about Burke’s and Campbell’s collection
  • Documentarist Olympia Stone and documentarist and MALS alumna Simone Keith discussing Stone’s film The Collector, about her late father, the gallerist and art collector Allan Stone
  • NC State archaeologist and material culture expert Professor Dru McGill
  • Hannah Mackenzie Grantham, Curatorial Assistant for Music and the Performing Arts at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African American History & Culture
  • North Carolina State Archivist Sarah Koonts, and Digital Access Branch Head Ashley Yandle
  • Scott Bailey, Data and Visualization Librarian, NC State University Libraries
  • Professor Alyson Wilson, Principal Investigator, Laboratory for Analytic Sciences, and Director, Data Science Initiative
  • Michael D. Bender, Director, Laboratory for Analytic Sciences

In the course, students all began with the same basic research question: “What do collections tell us about people, and about people’s relationship to the world around them?” Drawing upon class readings and discussions, guest lectures, virtual visits, and independent research, students each defined this question for themselves, in seminar papers on topics ranging from Nazi art plunder to sports memorabilia collections, from early women natural history collectors to “silences” in the NC State University archives, and from indigenous Hawaiian conceptions of collecting to the role of data collection in cybersecurity for children.

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