Wednesday, March 20, 2013


I'm a huge fan of the website, which collects high-quality long format journalism from the web. I am almost always in the middle of one or two articles, many of which I send to my Kindle Fire using the Pocket app. (Highly recommended, if anyone is seeking a way to read longer pieces at leisure.)

(For those who keep up with other museum blogs, Nina Simon recently used as an example of in-depth storytelling, which she argues is lacking in museums.)

Within the last week, has linked to two stories involving museums that really caught my eye.

The first, The Things They Leave Behind, is a powerful profile of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Collection and its curator, Duery Felton, Jr. I learned in this article that the collection is wholly uncensored, and thus, in a way, curated by the public. Every single object - even plastic spoons and the hundreds of construction paper cards left by schoolchildren - is collected, stored, and eventually cataloged. There are hundreds of thousands of artifacts in the collection, some of them surprising and confusing, some of them visceral and immediate, and all of them heartfelt.

The article is worth a read, and raises questions about the role of the curator, the idea of memorial collections and spaces, the role of objects in mediating both national and personal grief, and about the sometimes intensely personal meaning in objects that are largely devoid of provenance.

The second article, The Private Lives of the Cryptozoologists, is lighter but still raises intriguing questions and reminds me of a debate I once had in graduate school. If a museum is meant to be a trusted source of knowledge, who gets to decide what is true? For example, we had a vigorous discussion about whether the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky is a true museum. Most said no, but I maintain that it's not my place to judge the appropriateness of a museum's knowledge. All history has a point of view, and all presentation of science has a point of view; this is simply a variation on that.

This article raises questions about the lines between personal collections and public museums, about the presentation of science and anthropology, and the "entertainment" value of museums.

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