In her work, Mahogany: The Costs of Luxury in Early America, Jennifer Anderson examines the socioeconomic effects of the mahogany industry. Anderson discusses the mahogany logging industry in the Caribbean as demand for mahogany materials rose in England and America. As mahogany trees were logged, often by small groups of enslaved peoples, the forest were ravaged and lost much of its biodiversity. It was not only the forest that was impacted by the demand for the beautiful wood. Enslaved peoples toiled at the hands of slave masters and plantation owners who were only concerned with the import and export of material.
But what does this mean for museums? Perhaps, it could influence the traditional display of material. I spoke with Jessica Michak, archivist for Deadwood History, Inc. about the importance of contextualizing material culture. She commented that although an organization my have the best of intentions while displaying objects professionals are often constrained by time and resources. Perhaps, as emerging museum professionals we can push the bounds of traditional interpretation. Through exploring the origin of materials and broadening our scope we can approach a more contextualized display.
Ms. Michak and I also discussed the value of objects such as mahogany pieces, both historical and economic. For me, this raised a couple of questions about the idea of value in museum settings. Is there a risk in assigning an object some kind of value? If no value is assigned is it inherently zero? And, does that value (either historic or economic) have an effect on the way that object is interpreted?