Volunteer Spotlight: Janet A. Simon
A volunteer in the Museum Archives since 2005, after working on the Tikal Digital Access Project in the American Section for two years, Janet’s passion is the culture of the ancient Maya. Among the archival collections relating to the Museum’s excavations at Tikal—the most visited national park in Guatemala—she has cataloged the personal papers of Tikal excavator and director William Coe and is currently working on the records of team member Peter Harrison. Janet has also processed the Maya-related papers of Mary Butler, first woman archaeologist to receive a Penn Ph.D.; the correspondence of Tatiana Proskouriakoff, renowned glyph specialist; and the papers of Museum Artist M. Louise Baker. She has written two articles for Expedition magazine, including one about Mary Louise Baker, and is a member of the Loren Eiseley Society. Here Janet shares what fascinates her about the ancient Maya, and what drew her to the Penn Museum.
My interest in the ancient Maya grew out of repeat visits to the Maya site of Copán during volunteer work trips to rural Honduras. I find the rich civilization, architecture, astronomy, religion, and now deciphered hieroglyphic language of the ancient Maya fascinating.
I began attending Maya Weekends at the Penn Museum, where I heard Sharon Aponte Misdea talk about the ongoing Tikal digitization project of the early 2000s. I promptly thought, “This would be an ideal volunteer opportunity for a just-retired librarian with an interest in the ancient Maya.” In 2003 I signed up as a Museum volunteer and began identifying color slides taken by Penn’s Tikal archaeologists, then entering them into a computer database. While working on this project, I was able to audit Dr. Robert Sharer’s Ancient Maya class, along with participating in my dream retirement trip, “Capital Cities of the Ancient Maya” with Far Horizons, led by an archaeologist/epigrapher. I was very excited to visit Tikal for the first time and actually see the sites which I had been cataloguing at the Museum.
At the conclusion of the Tikal slide database project, I transferred to the Museum Archives, where Archivist Alex Pezzati has found continuing processing projects for me related to the ancient Maya. My favorite project has been Louise Baker because she was such a fascinating person, as well as a very talented archaeological artist and an excellent writer of her own unpublished autobiography. The opportunity to write articles for Expedition magazine on the Central American friendship between Mary Butler and Hamburg Museum director Franz Termer, which led to care packages from Penn Museum staffers to the Termer family in a devastated Hamburg at the end of World War II, and on the fascinating contrasts of Louise Baker’s life and career has been icing on the cake for me. I have very much enjoyed working with Alex and Expedition editor Jane Hickman on those articles, both of which originated from my Archives volunteer work.