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The Whaling Museum’s Collections Development Plan, done!

The Whaling Museum’s Collections Development Plan, done!

  It’s done! For the past year or so I’ve been working with staff and other Collections Committee members at the New Bedford Whaling Museum on a new collections development plan. It’s been an interesting experience. Collections development plans are a fairly new thing for museums. They are part of a general transition in how museums think of collections. Stephen Weil’s famous 1999 essay sums it up: “From Being about Something to Being for Somebody.” Museums once existed for their collections….

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A class about collections

A class about collections

We’re halfway through the semester, and my collections class is deep into the stamp exhibition project. I’m teaching a course titled “Museum Collecting and Collections.” There are three projects: the Brown University’s Library extensive stamp collections the paintings that came to Brown with the Annmary Brown Memorial, and scientific instruments scattered across Brown departments. In each case, we’re trying to understand the history of the collection, think about their potential use, do some cataloging, and propose a collections management and development plan. Today…

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The dark ride (on search)

The dark ride (on search)

  For a search engine to work well, it needs to know where to look. The streetlight effect offers a common metaphor. The drunk man searches under the streetlight because that’s where it’s easiest to find things. In a search of a museum collection database, we can search most easily, or only, in the categories that are well described, that we have good vocabulary for, that curators care about. I’d like to suggest another metaphor: the amusement park dark ride….

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The Find-me-another machine (On Search)

The Find-me-another machine (On Search)

[my presentation at the RISD Museum / Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology “On Search” Conference] I’d like to tell you about the new machine I just invented. It’s called the “find me another” machine. The portable version I brought with me happens to be just the right size for the objects we’ve heard about today. Here’s how it works. First, you set some sliding switches on the front of the machine. And then you take an object – a Maori feather…

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“The Curator Rules”

“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. [scribd id=261593303 key=key-Cnl9rhuKTMbfV4vLycxp mode=scroll] NOTE: The next entry in this blog is a corrected and expanded version of this talk.

The Curator Rules

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 talk about creative curation, to inspire students in the class working on an exhibition project. The assignment got me thinking: what’s creativity? Some part of…

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

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 was inspired by the 50th anniversary of the NMAH. I used to work there, and a former colleague asked me to write something. The director was…

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

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 train museum curators to collect, and how to evaluate collecting and collections. We need to share best practices. Those were among the conclusions of a session on…

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Museumbots: An Appreciation

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 their randomness that makes museumbots so interesting. The two objects to the left are unlikely representatives of the Metropolitan Museum. A belt fragment? A dessert dish?…

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Call for Papers: Lost Museums Colloquium

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 colloquium will be held at Brown University May 7 and 8, 2015. Museums, perhaps more than any other institutions, think in the very long term:…

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