Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Not just an academic exercise

Some time ago (longer than we realized, in fact), we shared some musings on the obsolescence of knowledge and the challenges of choosing what, in effect, will be saved for The Future. Despite the rhetorical nature of our musings, this is not merely an academic exercise, whether in this small repository or in the world's biggest museums.

To call attention to this problem, University College, London, has mounted a new exhibition called Disposal. New Scientist has posted seven images from the show on its web site--images of artefacts that might need to be weeded to make room for the rest. At the end, you can comment on which item you find least worthy. Will it be the Agatha Christie picnic basket? The Fleming glass lantern slide?

The UCL show also featured an event called "Fight at the Museum: Rescue My Object!" on October 20. While this undoubtedly provided some outstanding entertainment, it's a little too reminiscent of gladiatorial contests for my taste. History has long been written by the victorious, and we like to think that archives and museums can help redress that imbalance by seeking out and preserving the remains of the losers as well. (Not literally. At least, not as a rule).

In the current economic climate, many cultural institutions are facing major cuts in funding that impact the entire scope of their activity, from collections care to educational programs to open hours, and the role of the loving amateur, the enthusiast, and the collector in the preservation of our cultural heritage is becoming more important. Take the New Scientist challenge. Test your ability to choose the cultural Elect. You may be faced with a similar decision of your own, sooner than you know.

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