This is the third full day of SHA and my favorite so far. Today we talked about objects and collections, which is my favorite museum topic. One of our presenters made me very excited and affirmed when he dissed a certain state historical society that (ahem) is in a large Western capitol city. My state capitol. He is puzzled why this institution has chosen to removed nearly all of their original artifacts only to replace them with replicas, fancy store fronts, silly rides, and cartoon cut-outs. I wasn’t puzzled by this when I saw the newly-reopened museum; I was furious. I thought, “If object-less museums that decide to become theme parks and play houses are where the future of public history is going, I think I need to leave the field.” Happily, based on our presenter’s talk today, this is NOT where the field appears to be heading. I do believe in the magic and power of original artifacts over anything else that a museum has to offer. It’s all about the cool stuff and the story that stuff tells and its interchange with the visitor.
Our afternoon speaker had us do a fun interpretive exercise with several of her own personal objects that she brought in. We got to choose anything we wanted, and we all scoped out the table full of artifacts as she spoke: a stuffed Rafiki monkey from the Lion King, blue willow wear, a stuffed turtle, and a TARDIS/DALEK salt shaker set. When it came time to choose, we historians rushed the table and everyone grabbed for the TARDIS. I doubt anyone was surprised: a group of nerdy history people fighting over who gets to interpret the TARDIS. OF course, only one person got the little blue box, and someone else got the Dalek, and the rest of us contented ourselves with interpreting willow-wear, etc.