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A Letter from the Museum Reviews Editor

I am humbled and honored to assume the position of Museum Reviews Editor for the AJA. New museum exhibitions and installations are vitally important to the field of archaeology. They convey new findings and scholarship to the public, and the reviews of such shows and galleries are an opportunity for archaeologists to engage deeply with trends, debates, and issues in our field. Since March 2020, when much of the world entered various lockdowns to curb the spread of the COVID-19 virus, museums have faced unprecedented challenges—arguably some of the greatest challenges since World War II. The pandemic has forced museums to rethink how they share their collections and content with audiences, especially those who cannot visit their gallery spaces. It has also placed tremendous financial strain on virtually all institutions. Museum professionals are now tasked with connecting with new audiences and making their content accessible online. Furthermore, in the wake of the recent social justice movements, museums are critically examining their own displays and the narratives they want to share. This is a fitting time for museums to improve access and to contribute to a more inclusive society.

In such moments, there is tremendous opportunity for innovation and transformation. It is a particularly exciting time for museums and, as a result, for museum reviews in the AJA. The AJA will approach the review of exhibitions with renewed priorities and vision. Major American museums—including the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and the Cincinnati Art Museum—are reinstalling and reframing their permanent collections of antiquities. Likewise, international museums are also undertaking major renovations or constructing entirely new museums; the Pergamonmuseum in Berlin is under renovation, and the Grand Egypt Museum in Giza is scheduled to open in the fall of 2022, replacing the Beaux-Arts–style Egyptian Museum in Cairo. AJA reviews of permanent installations will encourage readers to consider anew the presentation of antiquities and archaeology to the public in the 21st century, as well as the priorities and narratives that museums feel are most important.

AJA museum reviews will continue to cover a broad range of temporary exhibitions (in all types of institutions) that offer innovative interpretation of ancient cultures. Reviews of shows that incorporate or focus on, for example, more technical aspects of ancient objects, their materiality, or the latest scientific research on the topic of the exhibition are also of interest to the AJA’s readers. The reception of ancient art is an abundantly fruitful area of artistic production today, and so exhibits of modern and contemporary art that engage with antiquity will also be reviewed for what these shows tell us about current understandings of the ancient world. Stand-alone digital exhibitions—whose popularity has surged during the pandemic—will remain an important venue for display as institutions increasingly utilize them to expand access to their collections and connect with global audiences. As a result, when particularly relevant, digital exhibitions will be considered for review in the AJA.

In an effort to better meet the needs of reviewers and readers alike, as Museum Reviews Editor I aim to publish between four and eight reviews per year on a quarterly basis. A review also can appear online ahead of print, aiding readers in deciding whether to visit before the exhibition closes. The decision to publish more and shorter reviews reflects my desire to broaden the coverage of reviewed exhibitions. Likewise, publishing shorter reviews will enable a wider range of scholars, including advanced doctoral students and early career academics, to bring their voices and insights to the AJA. In the case of major reinstallations or extremely significant temporary exhibitions, however, longer reviews will still be published, giving reviewers the space necessary to engage with them. The Museum Reviews Editor typically commissions reviews; however, inquiries from potential reviewers are also welcomed, as are suggestions from readers for reviews.

I hope that these choices will enable the museum reviews to evolve as exhibitions change, while preserving the core values of the Archaeological Institute of America. The museum reviews will adhere to the AIA’s policy of the publication of recently acquired antiquities (see Reviews must address any objects in the reviewed collections or exhibitions acquired after 1973 that lack a legitimate provenance and have not been appropriately published. Collecting histories and questions of provenance continue to interest AJA readers, and discussing them is also part of the process of decolonizing museums and facilitating more transparent dialogues about the fields of archaeology, collecting, and museums.

Building on the work done by my predecessor, Josephine Shaya, I will also continue to maintain the online list of current and upcoming museum exhibitions. This list, which will be archived each month, enables AJA readers to keep abreast of current and upcoming exhibitions globally. It serves as a record of the types of exhibitions that museums are staging. Indeed, the list can be conceptualized as an artifact in its own right—a snapshot of museum exhibitions in a moment—as Dr. Shaya did in her review “Lingering Tropes and Noteworthy Narratives in Recent Archaeology Exhibitions” in the October 2021 issue (AJA 125[4]:639–55). Examining the trends in museum exhibitions from 2017 to 2021, she observed how certain traditional narratives remained, while new themes emerged. I welcome suggestions from museum professionals and readers for additions to the list.

I am excited to be doing such meaningful work at a pivotal moment in the lives of museums, and I look forward to museum reviews contributing to the debates and discussions that are essential to advancing the discipline of archaeology. I would like to thank Emma Blake, Robert Schon, Meg Sneeringer, Elma Sanders, David L. Stone, Anne Duray, and Josephine Shaya for their support, advice, and insights, as well as the Graduate Center, The City University of New York, for its support of my work.