Tech, race, and gender: more thoughts on Fundraising the Dead

Fundraising the Dead was primarily assigned (I assume) for setting and plot: a Philadelphia cultural institution with the serial numbers filed off, and a series of thefts from the aforementioned institution. Plotwise, an inside job made easier by a backlog of materials and multiple cataloging systems rings true. Some details of Nell’s workplace remind me of my time at the APS. Scary elevator, check. Digitization project, check.

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Weekly readings: money, memory, mayhem

The Philadelphia and Detroit job postings serve as a reminder that public history positions in a competitive job market demand depth of expertise (an education, training, and experience trifecta) and also a willingness to shoulder (sometimes literally—up to 40 lbs.) a broad range of tasks. The less-than-stellar salaries and high staff turnover are often mentioned in Fundraising the Dead.1 One might think that a professor assigning these particular readings wishes to discourage students from pursuing public history careers…except for frequent references to the rewarding aspects of such work.2

The unfolding Landau/Savedoff case highlights the security issues fictionalized in Fundraising the Dead. Visitors walking off with documents is (one of) any institution’s nightmares, and the scope of the Maryland Historical Society’s loss (and the number of other institutions visited by, and potentially victims of, the accused) is significant. Connolly explores the dynamics of an inside job: ease of access, the legal and public relations issues that discourage information sharing and the informal networks that facilitate it, and a host of systemic and financial barriers to improving the security of cultural institutions.

In the real life and fictional scenarios, the human element both permitted the initial thefts and also identified the perpetrators.3 Security procedures may be stymied by a knowledgeable insider or an outsider skillfully wielding a clipboard or cupcakes.4 But individuals—a document dealer, an archivist, a fundraiser, a board member—are capable of detecting patterns and deploying their personal and professional networks to gather information. Mere dedication to one’s institution is not sufficient to protect it. But dedication is a strong motivation for vigilance, and that is where any effective security system begins.

1. See for example pages 30, 103.
2. See for example Connolly, 28, 272.
3. Confessed, in Connolly, 319, and charged in Gorenstein.
4. Varley, Steel Beach, 257 and The Atlantic Wire.