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From PhD Research to Software Sales and Back Again: My Summer Work at Axiell

Written by Amanda Sorensen

Hello Axiell friends, partners, and clients! My name is Amanda and I’m very excited to be working at Axiell this summer as a Sales Intern and a University of Maryland Graduate Internship Fellow. I grew up in the Chicago suburbs and I received my BA degrees from Loyola University Chicago in anthropology and French literature. As an undergraduate, I developed an interest in museums, specifically their exhibition and information practices. This led me into various roles at the Field Museum, including as a Discovery Squad lead, exhibition development intern, and a repatriation intern.

Following my undergraduate education, I moved to Vancouver where I earned my MA in anthropology with a focus in museum studies from the University of British Columbia (UBC). I chose to attend UBC because I wanted to learn from staff and faculty at the Museum of Anthropology (MOA), a leader in critical museum practice and scholarship. My MA thesis examined a MOA exhibition featuring Northwest Coast art.

I am currently a PhD Candidate at the University of Maryland in the College of Information Studies. Information Studies programs, often referred to as iSchools, research the social and ethical dimensions of technological and information systems. iSchools were largely born out of library science programs and they can encompass cultural heritage and archival studies, human-computer interaction, library and information science, digital and data curation, etc.

As examples, I work as a Graduate Research Assistant where I support a few interview-based studies on both the challenges and opportunities of scientific data reuse, and anthropology archiving practices. I never considered I would be doing a PhD in Information Studies, but I find this program links my interests in museums and cultural heritage institutions, their knowledge production and information practices (largely supported by databases, paper records, and archives), and the social ramifications of their technological systems.

I recently advanced to candidacy in my program, which entails writing a publication-worthy paper on a topic related to my dissertation research. My paper synthesizes across multiple bodies of literature: settler colonial theory, museum studies and museum anthropology, knowledge organization and information infrastructures, and software studies. Across the texts I read, I draw parallels between the development of both digital systems and knowledge organization schemas as world-building activities.

My paper ultimately argues that collections database systems are undertheorized in museum scholarship and are an often overlooked portion of museum practice. I intend for my dissertation research to begin considering this gap through a study on the history of commonly used museum database systems, specifically how they were developed from a knowledge organization perspective. How did designers and developers decide to structure the information contained within their database systems? What examples of museum information organization practices did they consider or look to when building their systems?

I’m very excited to be working with the Axiell sales team this summer. As a scholar interested in studying commercial cultural heritage databases, Axiell is a great place to learn about the capacities of their software products, how these systems are maintained and updated, and meet people working in cultural heritage software to understand their interests and priorities for the sector.

This summer and into the next academic year I will be developing and writing my dissertation proposal, including my finalized research questions, a background literature review, and my data collections methods. Being a part of the Axiell sales team for the summer will support the development of my dissertation by informing my research questions and directions.

If you’re interested in connecting about research, Axiell, or anything museum related, please reach out as I would love to chat (Amanda.sorensen@axiell.com). You can also learn more about my work on the UMD iSchool directory page.

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