Uvluulluataq (Good Afternoon), I have struggled a bit with this question, I’m not sure if it’s meant to question the technical aspects of why particular museum types collect or the larger philosophical question of why I think museums collect.  So I will try to answer both.  

My understanding of why museums collect is that it depends on the mission of the museum, the materials being collected and the people doing the research/collecting and curating.  A Natural History museum might collect specimens to gain more information about a specific species/environment or to preserve information that might be collected later.  A Fine Art museum might collect a piece of artwork that reflects a unique event or shared experience within the context of a particular perspective, timeframe or culture.   While I could go on with specific examples of reasons why that particular museum collected that object, it really is about the particular place, time, thing and people.  I have not worked for a museum in a collections capacity but I have had my work collected.  I did not ask why at the time but my understanding is that the art piece had a particular value at that moment to the curator that they felt needed to be preserved and shared by their institution.  Was that value the ideas behind the work? The craftsmanship? The aesthetic?  Was it because of me, the artist, that the work was valued and worthwhile to collect?  I’m not sure, I did not ask.  I only know that there was some sort of connection and that it had a value they felt was worth collecting.   So that is why I think that museums collect, because of a connection.  Whether it is to search for that connection, to covet a found connection or to preserve a connection, it is based in the need to connect with what is around us and to share that, with community or with future generations.  

Why individuals collect is based on the same concept; connection.  These connections have factors that can be place based, time based, type based or style based among many others that are dependent on the particular field of study and the key factors of differentiation or similarity in that field.  When I collect things or make things they typically have two different modes that lead to the collecting or creation of an object and those two modes are: Process based or product based.  Some things are collected because of the process that leads to the object, an art exhibition, an archaeological dig, collections field work maybe, all these events lead and create processes for things to be collected, these ones in particular have a direct connection to museum practices.  Another example of a process based collection is the act of collecting souvenirs, something that most of us do I think.  The other mode of collection/creation is product based and with this one comes intention.  For this one the focus is very much on the object itself and direct factors relating to that.    I’m not sure if these answer the question directly or just lead to more questions but I feel that these are all part of why museums collect and why we all do too.



Q:  Do you have a favorite museum object, collection, exhibit or artifact type? -(I really love ivory harpoon rests like the one pictured that is at the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology)

6 Thoughts to “Suva (why)”

  1. Martin Gutoski

    Erin, yup I got my favorite and only artifact @ UAMN but it ain’t sexy because it’s a blown apart rock art piece from Moose Creek Bluff. I’ve harped on this before since it was and still is an ongoing project since 1994.

  2. Barbara Long

    Good Morning,

    I enjoyed both posts and I agree. Humans are innate collectors of everything imaginable. My favorite museum collection would be anything Tlingit and/or Yup’ik surrounding artwork, technologies, and clothing etc. Thank you for sharing.

  3. Dylan Debuse

    Hey there Erin,
    I agree with your ideas of connection being linked to curation, after all, why would you want to display a piece that you didn’t find to be special in some way?
    A: for some reason whenever I see old mining equipment I freak out, I’m not sure what about it fascinates me so. Any kind of mine carts or lighting for such purposes excites me.
    Dylan DeBuse

  4. Michael Hubert

    thank you for your post enjoyed reading it. I think that like Barbara said we as humans like to collect items. some people have big collections and some might just have one or two item that they have collected that are dear to them. as far as an artifact I don’t really have a favorite. I think as far as an exhibit or artifact it need to gain my interest. and I want to learn from what ever it is. the exhibit called Bodies was really interesting for me. I saw it in South Korea when it came. it had its controversies with that exhibit also. but to see what only a doctor might see or what I might read about in a book was very eye opening.

  5. Barbara Long

    Good Afternoon,

    Collecting seems to have some emotional ties to whatever the individual/s may be interested in at a particular period in their life. I know people who just collect one category of items such as paintings, books, drawings, and figurines of elephants, cats, dogs, and coffee mugs etc. Interesting topics to be sure, a possible thesis project.

  6. Angela Linn

    Thanks for thinking broadly for this question Erin. It’s true, “why do museums collect” is a loaded question and I’m glad you are thinking about it both on the functional and more philosophical side. I appreciate your observation about making and documenting connections through the act of collecting. Museums and our collecting processes are a weird mix of “institutional priorities” and “individual desires” and I think we’re always trying to balance those motivations. A priority of having diverse representation of time, place, and ideas while also acknowledging the emotional responses we have as individuals looking at things and the information about those things. A favorite object? It’s like picking my favorite child out of 17,000 children! But the one piece that spoke to me very early in my days at the museum and continues to “spark joy” is the beaded collar made by Bedusa Derendy of Canoe Village, on the middle Kuskokwim, https://arctos.database.museum/guid/UAM:EH:UA64-065-0005.

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