Saturday, July 23, 2011

Every Day at the Museum

The NYT recently featured this video on two PhD students participating in the American Natural History Museum's comparative biology program. It is the only PhD program offered at the museum and it only accepts four students every year. The lucky few who are accepted have access to the entire collection and to crazy sophisticated technologies for their research. AND the museum pays for their field work to collect other specimens to study and add to the museum collection.

Not only is this video incredibly cool, but this could be a brilliant idea for other institutions to latch onto. Jennie Carvill at MuseumsandStuff points out that this kind of arrangement could overcome the problems some researchers have in gaining access to collections. I personally think that running a degree program could be a fantastic way for art museums to put their enormous collections of artifacts to good use. If art museums, at the least, teamed up with certain institutions to create very specialized research opportunities for archaeology, anthropology, art history, and museum studies students, everyone could kill a few different and pesky birds with some very smart and discerning stones:
  • encouraging the study of unprovenanced artifacts against professionally excavated artifacts may yield a lot of insight into what we didn't know about the orphan objects, and may help discover their origin countries;
  • after years of dishonest collecting and dishonorable attitudes toward origin countries, art museums may be able to redeem themselves by supporting the education of a younger generation that will not make the same mistakes as older generations;
  • collaborating on a degree program may be a good opportunity for the museum world and archaeologists to find a way to work together to preserve our cultural heritage, instead of just arguing about who does it better and who's making it worse.
I definitely think that, with the right institutions and people involved, this kind of collaboration could be incredibly beneficial.

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