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Biomedicine in museums

Is beauty a valid category for curating and registration of museum objects?

By November 16, 2007No Comments

Sometimes I wish I were still a graduate student, because all interesting conferences these days seem to be aimed at junior scholars (maybe it’s time to shift career again?). For example this one: ‘The Power of Beauty: Aesthetics, Politics, Morality’, a graduate student symposium at Yale Center for British Art in New Haven, Saturday 5 April, 2008.

The meeting feeds into a revival of ‘beauty’ (even ‘universal beauty’?) in the arts and humanities (or maybe ‘beauty’ never really disappeared?). I don’t know if this revival should be interpreted as a sign of post-postmodernism, or ‘rightism’, or even ‘neo-fascism’ (as my good colleague Roger Cooter might say), or if it is maybe just an effect of the constant need for academic renewal? Whatever the case, however, the comeback of ‘beauty’ is interesting, I think, because it expands the repertoire of interpretative and communicative strategies in the museum world.

Here’s the call (my link):

In 2005, Elizabeth Prettejohn’s book Beauty and Art set out to challenge “the late-twentieth-century view of beauty as irrevocably opposed to any form of responsible politics” by exploring beauty’s “capacity to stimulate fresh thinking and fresh debate.” The symposium will consider the issues surrounding beauty, both within the discipline of art history and more broadly in the arts and humanities, and will evaluate its potential as a subject of intellectual inquiry in today’s academic climate […]

Topics may include:

    • beauty as power: whether dangerous or redeeming
    • the political uses of beauty
    • beauty as commodity and/or its relationship with fetishism
    • concepts of beauty derived from philosophy
    • beauty and issues of gender
    • historical accounts charting the development of the term and/or contextualising its theorisation in a particular period
    • the cultural specificity of beauty and/or its potential universality
    • literary accounts of the beautiful and related terms such as the picturesque and the sublime
    • the relationship between beauty and subjectivity
    • the status of beauty within modernism
    • the significance of beauty for the study of material culture
    • the current status of beauty in the arts and humanities.

    Although the organisers mention ‘beauty’ both in material culture and in the arts and humanites in general, they apparently focus on it in terms of art history and art objects.

    In other words, the field is open for someone who would like to organise a meeting on ‘beautiful’ scientific, medical and technical (material) museum objects. I would love to hear what my colleagues in science, medical and technological museums think — for example, is ‘beauty’ a contested or valid category for curating and the registration of scientific, technological and medical museum objects?

    If you consider attending the Yale meeting, send a 300 word abstract to by 30 November.

Thomas Söderqvist

Author Thomas Söderqvist

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