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History and Museum Studies May 14, 2008

Posted by Will Thomas in Uncategorized.
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Just looking over Jenny’s overview of our online debate/conversation, I noticed a remark of mine that historical studies of material culture could “devolve” into museum studies. That sounds a little dismissive, but I stand by it, provided we don’t take “devolve” to mean “degrade”. I think my point is more that the analysis of objects is not the same thing as history, so to take a historical artifact and analyze it according to whatever criteria we please (say, using a literary-type analysis), does not constitute the practice of “history”.

But this is not to say that museum studies is below history. If I’ve taken away any big points from reading the Copenhagen Medical Museion’s blog, it’s that museum studies can similarly devolve into history. Thomas Söderqvist has often expressed on that blog his boredom at simply placing objects in their context. I am completely convinced that museum studies is a pedagogical-aesthetic-historical hybrid activity, and should not simply be “history”.

Ultimately, this just goes back to one of the points I started this blog with, which is that we need to be clear up front about what our motivations are, and who we expect our audience to be. I’d like to see a sort of renaissance of historical analysis that is not automatically labeled “bland” or “conservative” because it’s not museum studies. I see the two areas as related but distinct enterprises, and, by keeping them, and other areas, conceptually distinct, I hope that historical analysis (versus literary analysis, philosophical analysis, sociological analysis, or, for the lack of a better term, “issue” analysis) can be seen as a lively and progressive field of inquiry.

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