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Biomedicine in museums

Collection impossible: distributed curatorship as an alternative to centralised acquisitioning

I thought of sending this abstract to the Artefacts meeting in the Museum Boerhaave, Leiden, 25-27 September (this year’s theme is ‘Conceptualizing, Collecting and Presenting Recent Science and Technology’):

COLLECTION IMPOSSIBLE: Distributed curatorship as an alternative to centralised acquisitioning

Centralised collecting of the artefacts from contemporary science, technology and medical (STM) visual and material culture seems to have rather bleak prospects. The looming financial and social global crisis is not conducive to centralized efforts by big museums to save the contemporary STM heritage, not least because the modern state-subsidised museum institution is running out of funding (at least in the West). What can curators then do to uphold their professional obligation to rescue the contemporary STM heritage for future generations? In this paper I will discuss two alternative collecting strategies: distributed curatorship and crowd-sourcing. I suggest that the major aim of STM museum acquisition curators should rather be to raise the general awareness among scientists and the engineering and medical professions of the importance of preserving ‘their’ artefacts (heritagemindedness). Drawing on a historical analogy (biological standardisation in the 1950s), I also suggest that this aim might be achieved best by working out guidelines for the collection, preservation and curation of artefacts to be distributed to individual scientists, doctors and engineers in research institutions and private companies, and to interested members of the public. Presently, social media is probably the best vehicle for producing such guidelines and spreading them widely.

Any views? If you want to take issue with it, do it before 15 July, please? (Or in Leiden, of course).

Thomas Söderqvist

Author Thomas Söderqvist

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