June 2009


Over the last few months, the museum blogosphere has been talking about conferences.  Are conferences broken?  Yes.  (Particularly in environmental terms.)  Do we still need f2f conferences? Yes! Folks have been discussing other models, like virtual conferences, conferences as discrete points in ongoing conversations, Maker Faire (or skillshares in general?)  and camp.

I’m happy to say that I’m going to camp,  THATcamp, this weekend at CHNM.  There will be a bit of a mw2009 reunion there, it looks like (a conference that is not broken), and many of my favorite digital historians will be there, including many internet friends whom I’ve met and many I’ve yet to meet.  I expect that this will be an extremely well-tweeted conference, and also watch the THATcamp blog for ideas both already presented and emerging.

I see my role at THATcamp as mostly jumping up and down to say “What about museums?  What about material culture?”  That was basically my proposal:  “I’d like to talk about how to make museum collections, particularly three dimensional artifacts of material culture, part of ongoing digital humanities work. What are the challenges involved in 3D imaging, providing access, building ways for visitors and scholars to interact and engage with non-scanner-ready historical collections?”  Luckily, it looks like other campers are thinking about these issues too!  I’ll keep you posted on our discussions.

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My prayers and condolences go out to the family and colleagues of Officer Stephen Johns, a security guard at the Holocaust Museum, who died yesterday protecting the museum from a gunman.

Ford Bell of the AAM said in a statement that “Museums have always been among the most safe and secure of public institutions, and museum staff work every day to ensure that they remain so. We all salute the courage and professional action of security staff and law enforcement in resolving this situation.”

Magpie has offered thoughts on museums as a place of sanctuary.  May museums continue to serve as places where people can connect peacefully and in good faith.

Recently some thoughtful museum and library folks have been rereading and thinking about John Cotton Dana.  Dana was a progressive-era force for change, relevance and democracy in libraries and museums, and the founder of the Newark Museum.  The museum, said Dana, needs to be of use to its visitors, not a temple to its patrons’ riches.  To that end, he suggested new models for museums, most famous of which is the department store.  He was also a strong advocate of contemporary collecting as a direct illustration of the relevance of museums.  

Surely a function of the public art museum is the making of life more interesting, joyful and wholesome; and surely a museum cannot very well exercise that function unless if relates itself quite closely to the life it should be influencing, and surely it can not thus relate itself unless it comes in close contact with the material adornment of that life—the applied arts.

All this is preface to saying that maybe you should be reading Dana too.  The ideas that excite us now, about the participatory museum and the ways in which museums can serve our communities, are not new, and are supported by the work of past museologists.  

Many of Dana’s essays are online.  Check out, for instance:

The Gloom of the Museum

A Plan for a New Museum