Things I Love Thursday – a little esoteric ramble.
In many places on the internet, my username (when it’s not Nicole) is “iheartmuseums”. Back when I was trying to go with something a little more personal but not my actual name, I figured.. well, this is pretty accurate! Despite all the other things I’m into, I’m a museum lover for life. I’ve had a few people wonder recently about my username and what it is I love so much about museums, so I figured this irregularly scheduled TILT can be about that!
(I’m just going to pepper this post with some of my fave museum pics from the large Flickr set I have, to make it not a giant wall of text!)
I grew up in a rural town not near any large cities with museums. I was lucky enough to travel each summer to Sydney with my mum and/or grandmother, and would frequently visit the Australian Museum and the Powerhouse Museum. It was astonishing and awe-inspiring for a kid like me who grew up watching all the Attenborough docs she could to be able to walk around institutions like those and see the collections and research and exhibitions all around me and realize there were people doing this as their jobs and their careers.
As I got older I traveled to Sydney each year less and less. My connection with museums waned. It wasn’t until my last (or second last?) year of high school that it sparked again. My ancient history class took a field trip to Brisbane (about a 5 hour drive from where I lived!) to visit the Antiquities Museum at the University of Queensland, as well as the Anthropology Museum at the same campus, and also the Queensland Museum. I remembered that same wonder and awe, being surrounded by objects and information and stories.
A few years later, I ended up attending the University of Queensland. In my first semester as an anthropology/archaeology student, we visited both the museums I’d been to back in high school and I had this weird feeling. Not (just) of deja vu and realization that hey, I was back in these places, but also that I belonged there. That finally I’d decided to study something and be in a place where I could engage with museums not just as a visitor but as a student, a theorist, a collection manager, and… well, and a nerd.
Sure, you say. I get excited about museums. But why do I heart them?? Hold your breath.. There’s quite a few reasons. Starting with that physical feeling – being surrounded by the architecture of museums, the large gallery spaces, the historic buildings and the enormity of that. The interesting and necessary research being done behind the scenes. Being in exhibitions that show you the history of a place or of a people. Learning things outside your limited experience of the world. Expanding your understanding of the world and how that can positively impact your respect of the environment, animals and people living in it. The beauty of objects, natural or made by humans (or even sometimes animals).
What draws me in most of all is objects. This really reached out to me during my studies, and shaped my interest and focus on museums and material culture. Objects have such power and history and information and stories contained in them. Every little thing about a piece in a museum’s collection says something. Be it a stone tool from Africa, a fossil from China, a textile from India.. Where did it come from, what is it made of, who made it? When you look at the texture of it, you think about how it came to be. What was it used for? Natural history specimens tell a whole story of their own, not being made by humans – but their origin and genetics are key; a lot of research is done looking at museum collections over many years to see the narrative of the change of species and their environments. There are quite a few museums with specimens of extinct species, which as objects are full of information and history. Looking at a Dodo in Oxford was something that sparked a lot of things for me.
Nothing drives me more as a museum visitor and as an enthusiast than fascinating objects and how they connect me to the world. When I’m working in a collection, I’ll always crave finding out more through the databases and object history files. When I’m in a gallery, I’ll always seek out interpretive information. Objects have stories – some of them short, long, interesting, simple – and museums go a long way to sharing those stories. I love that, and I love museums.