Boothbay Railway Village

Anthropologist Dr. Whitney Lytle brings experience, passion to BRV

Wed, 11/11/2020 - 8:00am

Boothbay Railway Village welcomed new Director of Curation and Education Dr. Whitney Lytle Oct. 5. The Ohio native comes from San Antonio, Texas where she has been teaching at Northwest Vista College.

Lytle earned her bachelor's degree in anthropology from Kent State University in Ohio, her master’s from Texas State University and her Ph.D. from University of Texas at San Antonio. She worked seven years as education program coordinator for UTSA's Center for Archeological Research and her doctorate research brought her to Belize where she studied the Xunantunich ruins seasonally for a decade.

“I tried a lot of different majors before I landed on anthropology. The great thing for me is that anthropology is so diverse within the field that it kind of covers everything I majored in. Once I found it, I was in love.”

Lytle’s love of history and culture made a natural jump from classic-period Mayan and Olmec ritual sites to mid-19th to mid-20th century American industry and culture. Why did she come to the Boothbay region and BRV? “My mother and stepfather (Martha Cowdery and Michael Tomko) live in Boothbay Harbor … (but) it was one of those serendipitous things where I happened to be looking for work and I was checking out Maine to see if there was something and this kind of perfect position for me was there.”

As director of curation and education, Lytle is responsible for creating programming for a wide variety of groups, and working on cataloging every artifact in BRV’s possession, finding a place for it, whether for display or storage, and creating digital experiences.

Lytle feels like she has hit the ground running from day one and accomplished much in finding and cataloging items, drafting guidelines for handling and processing artifacts. Once the catalog is complete, it will go on the BRV website.

Lytle has high hopes for an archival building. “(It’s) so we'll be able to up our storage game with a higher level of preservation and protection for some of our more delicate artifacts. Over the next few years, there are going to be some huge changes in both what the people will be able to see when they visit, but also behind the scenes.”

BRV is creating a plan for safe reopening should restrictions persist into next spring and summer. That is where spreading artifacts out and creating virtual programming, more informative signage and more involved workshops will come into play. “Helping create a more robust program will involve outreach to both kids and adults … All of this is to get us from that sort of tourist attraction to more of a historic museum type of feel.”

Lytle said the job comes naturally and her passion for learning has kept a steady stream of artifacts coming through the office, but one of the big factors in her ability to fall into things naturally has been the BRV family embracing her from the get-go. With more artifacts than even longtime staff are aware of, Lytle is always excited to find and learn about an item while exploring with other staff.

“It's quite the big job and not just for me – for everybody on this team, here … It's all things I've done before in different contexts, just the research subject is different. It's fun to make a shift after so many years doing one thing. It's a fun and new adventure for me.”