Meet a Museum Blogger

Meet a Museum Blogger: Brad Lepper

Bradley T. Lepper was born and raised in northeastern Ohio and has lived somewhere in Ohio all of his life – except for the two years he spent at the University of New Mexico gorging himself at the archaeological smorgasbord at that institution. Brad now lives in Newark, in close proximity to the ancient earthworks to which he has devoted a large portion of his professional life. He had the great good fortune to have his best friend, Karen Richardson, accept his marriage proposal 30 years ago and they now have two sons, two dogs (mutts rescued from the dog pound), and four cats with whom they share their lives (Karen says they have four cats because they don’t want five).

In addition to Brad’s research on the earthworks, he also studies the Ice Age peoples of North America and the history of North American archaeology.  He has written extensively on these subjects for technical journals, magazines intended for a general audience, and for a regular column in The Columbus Dispatch.  Brad is the principal author of the book, Ohio Archaeology: An Illustrated Chronicle Of Ohio’s Ancient American Indian Cultures, published in 2005 by Ohio’s own Orange Frazer Press, which received the Society for American Archaeology‘s Public Audience Book Award.

Brad was also the lead curator for the current archaeology exhibit, Following in Ancient Footsteps, at the Ohio History Center as well as the exhibits at the museums at Fort Ancient, Flint Ridge, and the Newark Earthworks.

Brad at the opening ceremonies for the Walk with the Ancients by Ohio State students at Hopewell Culture National Park in Chillicothe, Ohio, Saturday, Sept. 11, 2010. (Photo by Timothy E. Black)Do you work in a museum? If not, where do you work? Tell us about your job.

I’m the Unit Head for Archaeology and Natural History at the Ohio Historical Society (OHS), but I still think of myself as the Curator of Archaeology, which is my main job. I manage the Archaeology/Natural History team, which doesn’t require much managing, take care of OHS’s archaeology collections and assist with the management of archaeological resources at OHS sites around the state. I conduct research, principally on OHS sites and collections, and devote a lot of energy to public education about Ohio’s amazing archaeology.

 What’s your educational background?

I have a BA in Anthropology from the University of New Mexico and an MA and PhD in Anthropology from The Ohio State University.

 What was your ‘sticky’ moment?

I think I have had many “sticky” moments – moments that you have described as experiences that “changed/inspired/engaged/challenged you in a way you didn’t know was possible” – but perhaps the most memorable came at the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial in Honolulu. To stand where sailors were standing in December of 1941 when their ship exploded and to read the names of those men inscribed in pure white marble; to see droplets of oil from the ship still, more than half-a-century later, bubbling up from the wreckage to paint the surface of the harbor with small, shiny rainbow-colored slicks made that history come alive in a way no other experience has approached. I not only cried, I was so choked up with emotion that for a time I felt like I could barely breathe. At that moment, I came the closest that I hope I may ever come to understanding the sacrifices made by the men and women who serve in the armed forces and by their families, communities and countries.

 What is the name of your blog? How long have you been blogging?

I am one of five institutional contributors to the Ohio Archaeology Blog and we host the occasional guest blogger on special topics. We’ve been blogging since June of 2006.

 What do you blog about? Why?

I blog mostly about Ohio archaeology, as you might have guessed from the name of the blog, and usually focus on sharing stories either about artifacts from the OHS Archaeology collections or one or another of our amazing sites, such as Serpent Mound or the Newark Earthworks. I blog because it can be such an effective way to make information about Ohio archaeology accessible to the widest possible audience. The Ohio Archaeology Blog gets viewed by people all over the world. Among the countries with the highest numbers of page views are Russia, Canada, France, the UK, Germany, and Australia. Nothing I’ve written for any other media – books, magazine articles, newspaper columns, or exhibit panels – has reached anything like this global audience.

Have you ever regretted a blog post?

Nope. I have never regretted a blog post. There have been a few that were not received as intended and there have been a few experiments that didn’t work, but I think that’s part of the real value and excitement of blogging. These brief epistles-to-anyone are much more immediate and vibrant than just about anything else we write in the course of our museum work. It’s museum interpretation without a net, which I suppose can be dangerous, but it’s also exhilarating and fun. I’ve certainly had writing assignments of various sorts over the years that I have not enjoyed, but I’ve had fun writing every one of my blog posts – and I hope it shows!

What’s your most read blog post? Tell us about it.

My most read blog post is a joint statement that I prepared with five colleagues who all had appeared in a quasi-documentary about the “lost civilizations of North America”. We had been led to believe that it was a credible documentary, such as might be broadcast on PBS, but it turned out to be promoting pseudo-scientific notions about the Native American past that we were embarrassed to be associated with. We parlayed that statement into a series of articles for the popular magazine Skeptical Inquirer and a conference presentation that may become a chapter in a book, so I think we did our best to turn that train wreck into a teachable moment.

 What’s the last exhibit you saw?

The last exhibit I saw was a small, but remarkably eclectic and tremendously fun display of ceramics at the Boonshoft Museum of Discovery in Dayton. The title of the exhibit was Impressions of the Past: Exploring the Cultural Properties of Pottery. I had the opportunity to speak with the curator of this exhibit, Jill Krieg, and learned that she had total creative control of everything from the selection of the objects to the design of the labels. I think that designing exhibits by committee sometimes can be stifling to the creative process and can lead either to blandness or incoherence. You might not be surprised to learn that I blogged about Jill’s wonderful exhibit.

 Do you tweet? Why or why not?

I used to tweet, but that was before I discovered Facebook. For me, the forced brevity of tweets was stifling. Apparently, I’m not into the brevity thing. Also, many tweets seemed to be incredibly banal fragments of bad reality shows (is the phrase “bad reality show” redundant?). Two of my favorite philosophers, Lao Tzu and Heraclitus, would have loved Twitter and if they were tweeting I would totally be following them, but in their absence, I’ll stick with FB.

 Share one piece of advice for those interested in working in the museum field:

My advice for anyone interested in working in the museum field is simple — keep the faith brothers and sisters.

Museums are, I think, sacred places; and those of us who work in museums have accepted a sacred trust to preserve, study and tell the stories of the treasures in our exhibits, archives and storage facilities.

During the war in Afghanistan, the National Museum in Kabul was hit by rockets and subsequently pillaged by looters. Much of what was left was smashed up by the Taliban. Since then, the museum staff has worked hard to rebuild this national treasure. They cut an inscription into a marble post in front of the building as an expression of their faith in the sustaining power of the objects and documents in their collections: “A nation stays alive when its culture stays alive.”

I am sure that simple statement has special poignancy for the Afghan curators, but its wisdom should not be lost on any of us in the museum field.

Thanks for participating in Meet a Museum Blogger, Brad!

In case you missed it, Brad blogs at Ohio Archaeology Blog

Do you have any additional questions for Brad regarding his profile above? Feel free to start a conversation in the comments below.

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