Growing up, going to museums was not a very common outing for my family. I was able to visit a few as school outings, most notably, the Museum of Arts and Sciences in Macon, Georgia. For me, the rarity of the event made it very special and museums became a kind of magical place of curiosity and learning. The museum I’ve mentioned in Georgia was my favorite as a child because it combined many different aspects of STEAM and had a whole wing that taught kids science topics through interactive exhibits and hands-on learning. As a kid, this was a really fun way to learn topics about physics and other such topics.
As I’ve gotten older, visiting museums (pre-COVID) has become something I really enjoy. I’ve been very lucky to be able to travel with work in my mid-twenties and visit a few different states. My favorite activity when visiting a new state is always visiting the museums in the area. As a biology major, the natural history exhibits have always been my favorite, but as someone who took several years to hammer down my specific interests, I really enjoy branching out and learning about other topics like art history.
Before coming to UAF, my knowledge of museums was limited to the public galleries and exhibits that I’d visited. The past couple of years have been super enlightening as I’ve been able to really learn more about UAMN and what goes on behind-the-scenes at a museum. My first semester I was working with Dr. Cristina Hansen on a project dealing with wildlife disease during which I had the opportunity to visit the Genomics Resources collections to obtain vole kidney samples for research purposes. I took Ornithology with Dr. Kevin Winker and learned about the bird collection. I took Dr. Derek Sikes’ class on Systematics and learned about the entomology collection and the importance of collections in systematics. My current research is with Dr. Andrés López during which I’ve been able to work in the fish genetics lab in the museum. It has been really fun to learn more about the research that goes on by and collaboratively with museums expanding my previous understanding of what a museum is.
I really enjoyed the Museopunks podcast this week about the ICOM definition of a museum. It really helped me reflect on what defines a museum and reasons that it may (or may not) be important to do so. Personally, I liked the newer definition that they discussed. I do agree that it can be restrictive, but one of the guests pointed out that it doesn’t really have much of a legal status and much of the distinction is left to local (whether that be state, federal, etc.) guidelines. What I liked about the newer definition was that it emphasized the role and responsibility that a museum has implicitly to its community. When it comes to public engagement and education, I think it is so important to have discussions about inclusivity and social justice. The “definition” does read more like an overarching mission statement, but I think maybe it should. As an international council that is respected and viewed by the whole museum industry, I think it’s important that they use their platform in order to support the social and cultural responsibility that museums have as the storytellers of the past, present, and future especially in the way of colonialism and its effects.
Speaking of podcasts, I’m so excited to have found a new podcast to listen to, Museopunks, and I can’t wait to listen to more episodes! One of my favorite podcasts, Ologies with Alie Ward, has a “Museology” episode (2018, episode 24) that is worth a listen. (Warning: there is sometimes adult language i.e., cursing. Find it here.)
Q: What did you all think about the ICOM definition debacle? Do you think a redefining is necessary? Do you like the “new” definition or if you wanted to rework it, how would you do so?