#5. Curation and Collecting: Why do we collect?
The featured photo needs introduction. Steven Lubar, a professor of American studies at Brown, as he looks behind the scenes at museums, exploring the way that curators consider what to collect and how to display it. He’ll focus on the story of the Jenks Museum, Brown University’s museum of natural history, anthropology, and relics in the late 1800s, to raise questions about the work of museums do today. Retrieved Feb 13, 2021 from https://www.newbedfordguide.com/event/history-of-brown-universitys-lost-museum-the-jenks-museum
“Museums need both collections and connections. Curators need to collect, and connect.
It’s the combination that give museums their power”
~ (Steven Lubar, 2018).
We are all collectors of something. Are reasons are varied. The Cabinet of Curiosities has become fashionable again allowing for narratives to be told with objects, photos, illustrations and the like. People and Boards have good intentions, but without follow through, laws, and regulations; collections within museums can become disposable in the interim. A museum case that ended sadly for Professor and amateur taxidermist John Whipple Potter Jenks, the founder of Brown University’s museum of natural history provides an example.
Jenks died in 1893. His numerous collections were dismantled bit by bit. The remaining museum collections in 1943 contained eighty-two boxes. Jenks collections were carted off by the truckloads to the university dump (Lubar, 2018). Students who found out about his previous collections decided to see what they could still find. These students scoured other universities, libraries, and museums trying to find some of his original collections. They provided a second life to the Jenks collections. It was reported that his collection consisted of forty-nine specimens at one-time (Pina, 2014). How many early museums have experienced a similar demise? Do you believe this can still happen today?
“But sometimes, we don’t have the things we need to tell the stories we want to tell. “No ideas but in things,” wrote William Carlos Williams, but that’s not always true. Sometimes, there are no things for our ideas. More precisely: Sometimes the objects we need to tell stories are lost, stolen, misplaced, unavailable, or just too hard to get and display. How to convey those ideas, tell those stories? … ” (Lubar, 2018).
This begs multiple questions: Should, we examine the ethics of collecting particular items that introduces a subject matter beforehand? Do we need to consult with entities that may be affected by the exhibit? We discussed this last week. Should all museums have cultural liaisons across the board? This includes ethnic groups as well. I think this opens the door to real-time exhibits not wildlife or gardens, but humans who take time to portray the subject matter at hand for a particular time period on a controversial or non-controversial subject. This would be a living interactive exhibit.
I’ve not been to a museum in a while. However, I did see a piece on a documentary where an individual was talking about his experiences in a concentration camp. This was then displayed in a format that was projected onto a screen. This gave the illusion that the individual was talking to you, personally. A museum then could predict what kind of questions would be asked by a visitor and adjust video and audio clips to answer your questions. A visitor could then walk back in time virtually with the speaker/s. This is an awesome way to tell a narrative.
I have an experience that speaks to destroying a collection/s. I had arrived to class early and decided to talk with the Department Chair of Biology. He was upset and decided to show me what had happened in our lab. All the display cabinets made out of oak and their collections had been ripped from the walls. They were thrown in a truck and taken to a dump. He was beyond upset. The entire class was upset upon hearing and seeing the empty walls. The countless specimen’s fauna and flora were gone forever. I asked, who did this and why? Someone higher up in the University system wanted to get rid of the solid oak cabinets and the old specimens to make way for more contemporary cabinets and specimens.To this day, it is a really upsetting experience. He taught us biology and zoology with these collections throughout our semesters.They were used by all the professors.
Lubar, S. (2018, Dec,). Exhibiting Absence, Retrieved Feb 13, 2021 from https://lubar.medium.com
Pina, T. (2014, Feb). “Lost’ museum at Brown University gets second life.Retrieved Feb 13, 2021 from https://www.providencejournal.com/article/20140222/Entertainment/302229990