Sara Mithra is graduating with a Masters in Folklore from UC Berkeley. Her thesis, BlackArts: George H. Pepper Collects and Inscribes Theories of Materiality, explores the anthropological lens of a turn of the nineteenth century researcher working primarily in the American Southwest. It’s theoretically positioned to show how meaning results from documentation, such as typologies, categorization, field notes, documentary photographs, and published reports, rather than from explicit ideas about material culture, and stands as a critique of conventional histories of the discipline of anthropology that ignore work on the margins. As she moves on to complete a Masters in Museum Studies at JFK University, she is considering broader anthropological issues. This includes how museums represent their collections digitally, in virtual exhibits and databases; how special events like demonstrations change exhibition space; and how collaborations fuel dialog between indigenous scholars and curators.
Her interests, as a folklorist, lay somewhere between tourism, interdisciplinary museums, monuments, and the American West, both the contemporary region and an imagined space. For example, she has thought about Arcosanti as an ecologically-minded experiment in urban planning and as a site for volunteer tourism. She’d like to work on the Crazy Horse Memorial and cultural center as a “museum of the future” with similarly utopian undertones. Folkloristics is good at paying attention to how people grow culture out of the ordinary and everyday and how they deploy terms like “tradition” or “authenticity” to protect what they find important. This means allowing for a variety of motivations and sense-making activities in and around museums that may have nothing to do with acquiring knowledge.
She’s drawn to the Southwest for the enduring legacy it has for archeology and cultural anthropology, nascent romantic nationalism, and indigenous America.