Category Archives: Collections

“The Curator Rules”

These are the slides and my notes from my talk at Marymount University, the Bissel Lecture in the Humanities, presented April 10 as part of the Virginia Humanities Conference. My thanks to Tonya Howe for the invitation, to Marymount for their hospitality, and to the audience for its good questions. NOTE: The next entry in …

Continue reading

The Curator Rules

Museum curators have certain ways of doing things, certain rules they follow. It’s important to know what these rules are – and also to realize that they can be broken. These are notes from my talk to Catherine Whalen and Sarah Carter’s “Curatorial Practice as Experiment” course at Bard Graduate School. Catherine asked that I …

Continue reading

Writing about the past, thinking about the future: National Museum of American History

My article on the history and philosophy of collecting at the National Museum of American History has been published in the Federal History Journal. The issue is freely available, here, and my essay is here. It’s a good issue: I especially recommend the article by Margo Anderson, “Public Management of Big Data: Historical Lessons from the 1940s.” My essay …

Continue reading

Collecting the History of Technology at the National Museum of American History

Collecting for history museums is challenging work, and there needs to be more research and writing on both its history and how to do it. We need to understand how and why collections came to museums; what decisions that shaped collections they hold today? And we need to talk more about how to collect, how to …

Continue reading

Museumbots: An Appreciation

Meet the museumbot. Museumbots tweet random objects from museum collections, four or five objects a day. I know of three museumbots, and I’m sure there are more. @museumbot tweets Metropolitan Museum of Art collections, @cooperhewittbot, and @bklynmuseumbot their eponymous museums’ collections. Here’s the last few objects from @museumbot, as good a sample as any: It’s …

Continue reading

Call for Papers: Lost Museums Colloquium

In conjunction with the year-long exhibition project examining Brown University’s lost Jenks Museum, the John Nicholas Brown Center for Public Humanities and Cultural Heritage, the Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology, and the John Carter Brown Library invite paper proposals for a colloquium on lost artifacts, collections and museums. (Other formats—conceptual, poetic, and artistic—are also invited.)  The …

Continue reading

21st-Century History of Technology: Fashioning a Usable Past

Yesterday the MIT Museum and the Hagley Museum and Library ran a fascinating workshop on “Doing the History of Technology in the 21st Century.” The workshop, at the MIT Museum, brought together historians, museum curators, public humanists, and more to talk about how the history of technology is changing – and how it needs to change …

Continue reading

Authenticity, and bears

The scene: Roger Williams Natural History Museum, Providence, Rhode Island. A group of twenty third-graders has just arrived. The docent settles them down, tells them to use their inside voices and their walking shoes. But one boy can’t wait. His hand shoots up as soon as the docent asks for questions. Is it real? He’s …

Continue reading

A rock’s story

I’ve been following closely (this may sound odd) the story of a rock. Not just any rock, and not just any story. It’s a rock on Mars, and it’s been tweeting. So, a first-person Martian rock story. You can see the whole thing here, storified. The rock is sitting happily in Gale Crater. A strange robot …

Continue reading

“Facing the Museum,” Completed!

I’ve written about Faces – now called “Facing the Museum” several times on this blog. It started with the discover of several century-old “ethnographic busts” in the attic of the museum’s Collection Research Center, became more interesting as we teased out the stories of the busts, and then expanded into an overview of the history, …

Continue reading