Although the question of why museums collect specimens, artifacts, or works of art, is often overlooked by many who visit museums, it is an important question to ask. Commonly, it can be assumed that museums grow their collections in order to preserve, inform, and educate. It can easily be said that in the past the methods of acquiring parts of a museum’s collection is and were questionable at best, considering the term a “cabinet of curiosities”. Preservation is important, as many specimens either no longer exist, are extremely rare, are facing the threat of eradication or extinction, or were only documented alive only once or twice in recent memory. It is important to have the preservation of these specimens in order to inform and educate what little, or much, of what we know.

In the terms of growing a collection, more modern laws require a code of ethics regarding collections and their acquisition is valuable, as it prevents repeat offenses from the past where some, or all, parts of a collection could have been acquired through questionable or illegal means in the name of preservation, information, or education. In a way, knowledge is gained at a dangerous cost. However, one must also be aware that collections can be donated willingly, this includes objects of great importance, works of art, or actual specimens or artifacts that have been passed on and a decision was made to donate. I have witnessed the latter regarding a collection of butterfly specimens that are now currently on display in the Museum of Nature and Science in Anchorage.

What collection piece have you seen that prompted the question “how did this end up here”?

Pratt Museum marine gallery in Homer, AK.

One Thought to “Museum curation and collections”

  1. Hannah Terwilliger

    Hi Michelle!
    I enjoyed your posts and your thoughts on museum curations and collections! It was very interesting! To answer your question, when I was at the Anchorage Museum they had a collection of WW2 artifacts that were from the Japanese military. Like one of them was a sword and I was so curious about it. I don’t remember how the museum obtained it, but it really did intrigue me. Great job!

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