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 Post subject: Is Your Museum a "Crypt of Curatorship"?
PostPosted: Fri Aug 23, 2013 8:49 am 

Joined: Sun Aug 22, 2004 1:51 pm
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Location: Somewhere east of Prescott, AZ along the old Santa Fe "Prescott & Eastern"
An intriguing essay on museums and their intended audiences in 2013, at CNN:

http://www.cnn.com/2013/08/22/travel/op ... index.html

Pay attention also to the comments that follow.


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 Post subject: Re: Is Your Museum a "Crypt of Curatorship"?
PostPosted: Fri Aug 23, 2013 10:13 am 

Joined: Tue May 07, 2013 12:07 pm
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Location: Snyder County PA
This is true a portrayal based on a sliding scale ... Intelligence! Smart people can look at an object and ask themselves a dozen questions .... Intellectually challenged people (PC!) look at an object and ask themselves 'how long is it to lunch'! Museums should administer a rudimentary IQ test before allowing a person admission. That would prevent inconsiderate ne'r-do-wells from standing in front of a display, picking their noses, and blocking the view for really interested people! The author of this article is obviously a progressive person, one that has to have the latest Spazfone with built in espresso maker. If his assistant hands him yesterdays microphone, he will go ballistic and have the assistant fired! He can never remember his assistants names nor does he care to. History is a dirty word! What is the base word for NEWS .... new...NOT old! Ask this guy who was the greatest inventor of all time, and receive "Bill Gates" or "Steve Jobs". History equals Resumé ... His brag sheet as he climbs the 'success' ladder, stepping on not just fingers, but backs and even faces of anyone in his way! I dismiss him with a wave of my hand...... just extraneous noise on a very noisy landscape!


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 Post subject: Re: Is Your Museum a "Crypt of Curatorship"?
PostPosted: Fri Aug 23, 2013 10:51 am 

Joined: Sat Mar 17, 2012 12:11 am
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Location: North Carolina USA
It reminds me of a friend who was the front desk manager for a hotel who observed "This would be a great job if it were not for the customers." To a lesser or greater degree, I suspect that objects in context are more informative than simply having objects explain themselves and the challenge is to make it interesting and you cannot do that by reciting facts like a robot. a good docent is a good story teller and so is the arrangement of the object. I think thats why living museums are more successful in telling a story. Seeing an object frozen in amber versus experiencing it is worlds apart. Most collections are a mishmash that have no relevance to local history and I think local history is more of a draw than something that is irrelevant to local history or in such broad terms, it's abstract.
Most museums have experienced preservation and collecting on a ADD basis, which is not to be criticised as an act of retaining history for future generations, but...looking at a row of boxcars is ( to most) like seeing a row of not particularly interesting boxes. Sort of abstract in the extreme. No doubt, all of this is a challenge.


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 Post subject: Re: Is Your Museum a "Crypt of Curatorship"?
PostPosted: Fri Aug 23, 2013 11:07 am 

Joined: Mon Aug 23, 2004 11:07 am
Posts: 617
Alexander D. Mitchell IV wrote:
An intriguing essay on museums and their intended audiences in 2013, at CNN:

http://www.cnn.com/2013/08/22/travel/op ... index.html

Pay attention also to the comments that follow.


I wouldn't read too much in the article the author admits he doesn't like going to museums --- kinda like some one who doesn't like going to the opera, but goes to rock concerts instead.

The real issue is "if you use something, do you risk destroying it?" and he doesn't get there.

Bob H


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 Post subject: Re: Is Your Museum a "Crypt of Curatorship"?
PostPosted: Fri Aug 23, 2013 12:10 pm 

Joined: Sun Feb 26, 2006 2:31 pm
Posts: 12
Location: Wichita, Kansas
PYZedd wrote:
This is true a portrayal based on a sliding scale ... Intelligence! Smart people can look at an object and ask themselves a dozen questions .... Intellectually challenged people (PC!) look at an object and ask themselves 'how long is it to lunch'! Museums should administer a rudimentary IQ test before allowing a person admission.


I respectfully, but wholeheartedly disagree. It's not always about IQ or the willingness to learn that turns people such as this author off of museums. It's often about learning styles, and effective techniques to address them. There is controversy about the categorization of learning styles, and critics of the overall adaptation. But overwhelming research supports the theory that addressing an individual learning style to some capacity benefits each student, which is why educators are implementing techniques based on these theories.

The article is too harsh. The traditional museum model is still effective and important. They focus more on preservation, and fill the need for those who appreciate it. But there are several that will never learn much from a visit to them because they react to other forms of media. Compare the attendance of a modern, interactive children's museum to an equivalent-sized traditional museum. Both aim to do the same thing, but the children's museum has much higher attendance.


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 Post subject: Re: Is Your Museum a "Crypt of Curatorship"?
PostPosted: Fri Aug 23, 2013 12:49 pm 

Joined: Sun Aug 22, 2004 11:26 am
Posts: 4366
Location: Maine
Artifacts in operational condition are likely at their prime. Machines are built to be used and repaired. The attention span of the public, particularly young parents, is not likely to be exceptionally long. Anything a child can "try out", touch, hold, manipulate, pick up, tactilley experience is going to bring the child and family back. Children like to make things go as fast as they can, prepare your exhibit for unintended, but real abuse. Touch displays are a big hit. Physics demonstrations are always well received. Handouts for little kids to color are worth the expense. Docents need to be kid friendly. Parents need to be responsible for their children or asked to leave. Interactive simulations encourage schools to attend. Have a focus, a purpose, a message of value.

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 Post subject: Re: Is Your Museum a "Crypt of Curatorship"?
PostPosted: Fri Aug 23, 2013 12:56 pm 

Joined: Mon Aug 23, 2004 12:59 pm
Posts: 620
The CNN article fits pretty well with a previous RYPN discussion of museum theory and evolution:

http://www.rypn.org/forums/viewtopic.php?f=1&t=34884


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 Post subject: Re: Is Your Museum a "Crypt of Curatorship"?
PostPosted: Sat Aug 24, 2013 8:25 am 

Joined: Sat Aug 28, 2004 3:25 am
Posts: 1025
I remember one curmudgeon quoted as saying, "The neatest, cleanest places in the world are museums, filled with dead things." I guess that person never visited a railway museum.

Memories from a trip to England in 1993: While in Carlisle, I visited the Border Regiments Military Museum. One display case had items from the 1770s, and a card reading something like, "During this period [3 or 4 regiments were named] were dispatched to North America to deal with rebellious colonists" and I thought, "HEY! That's US!" At the National Railway Museum in York, I remember being awe-inspired by seeing the Evening Star, the last steam locomotive built for main line service in England. How poetic!

My wife would like to visit St. Petersburg, Russia, and spend several days there to see the many art treasures there. This is a longer stay than any package tour we've found will include. So, some of us can't get enough museum time. (and I would probably try to learn enough Russian to study their tramway network)

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 Post subject: Re: Is Your Museum a "Crypt of Curatorship"?
PostPosted: Sat Aug 24, 2013 9:37 am 

Joined: Sun Aug 22, 2004 7:58 am
Posts: 728
What I took away from the article was a plea for more creative interpretation in museums. He praised the interactive presentation style common in kids' exhibits, and was perfectly correct in pointing out that similar, imaginative approaches would be just as useful for adults.

Many of us are just overgrown kids, after all!

The guy did acknowledge the importance of old-school museum collections, conservation, and research, but very clearly stated that it doesn't turn his crank. He even hinted that he might be a bit more interested if captions included enough information to help him understand why it is relevant to a modern grown man.

I have a feeling a tourist railroad would entertain him more than a static collection. Sure, he comes across as an opinionated clod, but the points he makes are valid.

Quote:
One display case had items from the 1770s, and a card reading something like, "During this period [3 or 4 regiments were named] were dispatched to North America to deal with rebellious colonists" and I thought, "HEY! That's US!"


I had to chuckle at this one... in 2012-2013 the Canadian government has funded museum displays, special events, and short ads on TV and radio marking the bicentennial of this war, in which loyal Canadians, allied with several native nations and troops from the mother country, drove the evil American scourge from our soil...

I couldn't help wondering how all this makes our American visitors feel... what a nice warm welcome, LOL... specially for visitors from places far enough south that they didn't know we won the war (here)... although there's no disputing the fact Britain truly lost it in the south.

I'm glad things improved over the last 200 years, although we did have to fix those fiendish Fenians once and for all...

This celebration has brought forward a lot of cool exhibitions, reenactments, and other events to capture the imagination- and very little of the "dead stuff in drawers" type of display.

Steve Hunter


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 Post subject: Re: Is Your Museum a "Crypt of Curatorship"?
PostPosted: Sat Aug 24, 2013 9:54 am 

Joined: Sun Aug 22, 2004 7:25 pm
Posts: 2059
The JFK library has an exhibit room of artifacts displayed in drawers as if stored. You pull open a drawer to reveal traditional "display case" items otherwise described here by the CNN reporter. I found the element of discovery in the JFK exhibit to be interesting.

Wesley


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 Post subject: Re: Is Your Museum a "Crypt of Curatorship"?
PostPosted: Sat Aug 24, 2013 10:05 am 

Joined: Thu May 24, 2012 1:37 pm
Posts: 1506
Quote:
I remember one curmudgeon quoted as saying, "The neatest, cleanest places in the world are museums, filled with dead things." I guess that person never visited a railway museum.


Are you saying that cluttered, dirty places filled with dead things are better? ;-}

Be sure to read Ford Bell's letter (it has a live link in the article text, but the link only appears when you mouse over it.)

Most of the large museums I'm familiar with HAVE 'crypts of curatorship' -- they comprise the collection, the archives. Think of all the items in storage at Udvar-Hazy, for example. This is the 'preservation' aspect of museums, and that aspect is both important and necessary. Without preservation, display becomes nugatory, and a great deal of discussion I see on RyPN about 'too much collection' seems to argue otherwise. I think the root of the problem the author was describing is when the 'public face' of the museum becomes merely the putting on display of some of the curated items, with only cursory indication of what they are or what their context or significance might be.

On the other hand, it isn't 'snobbery' to assume that when you look at a 15th-Century Iranian plate, you will either know something about Persian art history or be motivated to find out more. In the 'old days' there was never enough budget to completely re-create the necessary courses in art appreciation and history that would have to accompany each such exhibit -- therefore, the mere placeholders that accompany the dead, cold artifacts. That is, in part, why I have been following the 'new media' discussions on here with such interest. Nowadays, for example, you can easily print up one of those little scannable codes on an exhibit tag, and someone with one of those ubiquitous ... what did somebody call them recently, SpazPhones? ... can pull up content tailored to their preference, explaining to whatever degree of MEGO induction they desire the wider content or importance of what they're looking at. Or directing them to other areas of interest, or mentioning other things they should see, or recommending other sites or places of interest. And bookmarking everything for easy reading when they 'get home' and can access information on something with a viewable area larger than a playing card.

Note that this opens up a very wide range of opportunity that lifts the museum's responsibility to document everything with fancier tags -- for people with fancy cell phones. Perhaps there is something good coming out of pervasive smartphone (there's an oxymoron for ya!) penetration after all... ;-}

In particular now that LCD panel prices at the appropriate size have fallen through the floor, I can see an expanded version of the old 'guided tour' tape players that would serve a similar purpose for folks not blessed with disposable income for communications devices. You could easily 'gin up enough 'broadband' coverage to be able to pull up stored content on these things, or stream compressed video when necessary. Make the presentation on these available 'free' to anyone who, say, brings their own SDHC chip to the party -- it's a lot easier to explain how to use a card reader than it is to explain the technical development of the 201 into the 201A, for example...

I had to laugh at the gift shop comments. I think I have yet to go to a railroad-oriented museum that had a gift shop much different from what he was describing. I don't have a better answer, though... aside from making catalogue access easier over the network for those who want to buy mementoes or other appropriate forms of swag that would be too expensive for a simple museum shop to stock...

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 Post subject: Re: Is Your Museum a "Crypt of Curatorship"?
PostPosted: Sat Aug 24, 2013 10:17 am 

Joined: Sun Aug 22, 2004 7:58 am
Posts: 728
Quote:
The JFK library has an exhibit room of artifacts displayed in drawers as if stored. You pull open a drawer to reveal traditional "display case" items otherwise described here by the CNN reporter. I found the element of discovery in the JFK exhibit to be interesting.


But Wes, you have an active curiosity, and some people don't.

The perfect museum would use a wide assortment of approaches, to entertain those without curiosity, yet stimulate those of us who thrive on exploring and learning.

Many times I've tried to express my excitement at holding and reading an original letter from our first Prime Minister, John A. MacDonald (before he was knighted) to Thomas Swinyard of the Department of Public Works, outlining exactly what he wanted in terms of supervising the completion of the Prince Edward Island Railway and transfer to the federal government.

This letter, preserved in the National Archives of Canada, is of huge historical significance to Prince Edward Island, Canada, indeed Confederation, not just to railway historians, and Sir John holds practically mythical status in Canadian history, but the tale is usually received with total disinterest.

Maybe we need some "museum haters" on board, to help us understand what might appeal to the "great unwashed masses"!

:-)

Steve Hunter


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 Post subject: Re: Is Your Museum a "Crypt of Curatorship"?
PostPosted: Sat Aug 24, 2013 11:26 am 

Joined: Wed Jan 12, 2011 10:51 am
Posts: 10
A number of years ago when my daughter was going into 7th grade, we made a trip to Philadelphia. Usual tourist stuff; Liberty Bell, Independence Hall. The biggest memory of that trip however was Ben Franklin's grave.

Why? There was a volunteer guide at the cemetery. He had an amazing gift for telling stories about what we were looking at. He had my daughter, and some other kids, hanging on every word. I think we ultimately spent about 45 minutes listening to him.

The key here is to make things interesting. Most people don't really care about the number of rivets. Sure the foamers do, but they are a very small minority. Hand a kid a shovel and tell him to shovel coat from one pile to the next. Then tell him he has to do that for hours on end. He gets the idea of what a fireman had (or has) to do. He doesn't need to know the type of coal and the type of firebox!

I'm sure most museums have a couple members who are really good speakers. It seems as though that's not always important. If you don't show up at various work sessions to be a laborer, then you're not needed. The docent thing doesn't ever seem to be important. It's always about "this was the last car to run on this obscure short line and must be preserved".


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 Post subject: Re: Is Your Museum a "Crypt of Curatorship"?
PostPosted: Sat Aug 24, 2013 11:38 am 

Joined: Sun Aug 22, 2004 7:19 am
Posts: 6072
Location: southeastern USA
dbbii wrote:
There was a volunteer guide at the cemetery. He had an amazing gift for telling stories about what we were looking at. He had my daughter, and some other kids, hanging on every word. I think we ultimately spent about 45 minutes listening to him.


And there it is......tell interesting stories well. It really doesn't matter what medium or bundle of media you use, but......tell a good story. Build the script before you build the museum.

dave

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 Post subject: Re: Is Your Museum a "Crypt of Curatorship"?
PostPosted: Mon Aug 26, 2013 4:47 pm 

Joined: Thu Nov 22, 2007 5:46 am
Posts: 2589
Location: S.F. Bay Area
Bob Davis wrote:
I remember one curmudgeon quoted as saying, "The neatest, cleanest places in the world are museums, filled with dead things." I guess that person never visited a railway museum.


I want to rig every car with a voice detector that, any time it hears the words "static", "dead", "rusty" or the snapping shots of one of those Flickr photographers, it cycles the compressor on.

The only trick would be not having it trip the substation if someone screams at the top of their lungs "never run again".


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