Why do museums collect?
Museums collect for several reasons, and these reasons have changed over the many years they have existed. Primarily Museum like collections existed to generate curiosity through the sometimes items contained within to wrench a few coins from the pockets of their patrons. Although these items may not have always been authentic, they generated enough curiosity and profit to continue their productions. I believe not enough credit is given to the shysters and charlatans that had created a museum-like experience through the use of fake mermaids and magical flea circuses. As of late, the reason museums seem to collect is to provide a voice to points of view that may have gone unnoticed. Museum collections allow the local voices, often closely linked to their patrons, with their communities in a more profound way than a photo album or a brief article ever could.
An example of this is provided in the Daedalus article On Museums in a Post-Modern World. The author writes of a museum in Bolivia which “serve as a focal point from cultural pride and sense of ownership over their history.” (Stanish, 147). The article continues, explaining how Bolivian art is not separated from western art. These kinds of categories do not allow one to compare and contrast as quickly. This immediate ability to identify a culture’s unique artistic strengths is a great way to allow outsiders a sense of understanding even if they are not wholly entuned to the pieces.
What is more, small local museums have allowed even more localized and unique cultures to identify and display themselves. Each Museum you visit will illuminate a new variety of person which can further develop your understanding of the world around you. These local museums also allow local cultures to care for their artifacts rather than display them in far off locales that may not treat pieces as they may be intended.
Overall, I believe museums collect to provide insight into under-display portions of local culture. Many, I included, find museums to be a powerful part of the personality of any town. The Museum illustrates what makes that area of the world unique and why that matters by displaying what matters to that unique part of the world. In this way, a catalog of what is found to be critical can be kept for decades, and someday future historians will be able to look back and imagine how weird baseball must have been. More likely, they will be able to see what kinds of things are held as valuable in our lives, which can help them construct a better idea of what our society looked like. In my eyes, that’s why a museum collects, to capture subjects that are valuable to our society and the specifics of those subjects, allowing future generations to view our curations as gospel when creating visualizations of our time. This is not to say it cannot do the same for its contemporary viewers. Museums highlight what kinds of things in culture people should be paying attention to. Currently the Anchorage Museum is hosting an exhibit on Women of the North which I believe further illustrates my point.
How do you think museums can help future historians?