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Category: Museums

Considering the 9/11 Memorial Museum: One visit, three ways

Considering the 9/11 Memorial Museum: One visit, three ways

(some advice I gave my students before our visit last week, updated after the visit) When you visit the museum—when you visit any museum—try to examine it in three different ways, to look at it through three different lenses. First, consider it as a member of the general public. Next, look at it with a critical eye, trained by your reading, museum experience, and theoretical concerns. And finally, think about it as an employee of the institution might: what works,…

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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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Building a skiascope

Building a skiascope

                “The theoretic value of the skiascope is incontestable.”  —Benjamin Ives Gilman In his Museum Ideals of Purpose and Method (1918 ), Gilman gives detailed instructions for making a skiascope, a device that will allow museum to see paintings and sculptures more clearly, by blocking glare, and other distractions. [scribd id=268670595 key=key-z673RqPg67anzV5ifkqI mode=scroll] The instructions are long and complicated. Here’s a quick pictorial guide: First, cut out the top and bottom Make the wires, and…

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“Today’s Museum: Innovation, Change, and Challenge”

“Today’s Museum: Innovation, Change, and Challenge”

Here’s the presentation I gave at the Mathers Museum’s “Museums at the Crossroads: Local Knowledge, Global Encounters” workshop last week. More on the workshop here. It was a delightful event: smart people from around the world thinking about the future of museums. Video and more coming soon. [scribd id=265809631 key=key-YIEJLWe80MpT7zmNQkzO mode=scroll]

“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.

Exhibit and exhibit labels workshop

Exhibit and exhibit labels workshop

I talked to the “Methods in Public Humanities” class today about exhibitions. A very quick overview, and didn’t even get to the how-to-write-good-labels part of the talk. Here are my presentations, on exhibits generally, and on exhibit labels, slightly cleaned up but without much in the way of notes.  

History of museum exhibitions; a Pinterest experiment

History of museum exhibitions; a Pinterest experiment

When I taught a course on the history of museums, I found it useful to have a ready source of historical images of exhibitions from the past 500 years of so. As an experiment, I added Pinterest to my workflow. It’s extremely easy to add an image to a Pinterest board; click a button, correct the caption, and you’re set. And Pinterest makes suggestions, too: other boards with similar images, which makes it easy to explore and find images others…

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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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