Defining the Modern Museum: A Case Study of the Challenges of Exchange (Cultural Spaces)
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Defining the Modern Museum is a fascinating exploration of the museum as a cultural institution. Emphasizing museums' relationship to schools, libraries, and government agencies, this interdisciplinary study challenges long-standing assumptions about museums – revealing their messy, uncertain origins, and belying the standard narrative of their educational purpose having been corrupted by corporate goals.
Using theoretical models and extensive archival research, Lianne McTavish examines the case of Canada's oldest continuing public museum, the New Brunswick Museum in Saint John. Focusing on the period between 1842 and the 1950s, McTavish addresses topics such as the transnational exchange of objects between museums, efforts by women to claim space within the organization, the creation of Carnegie libraries, and the rising status of curators.
Shedding light on many topics of current interest, especially the commodification and globalization of museums, this study makes a lively contribution to museum studies and cultural studies.
greatest number of gifts given by the Natural History Society were not inherently useful, and there was no real demand for them before they were put into circulation through gift exchange. International collectors and museums only began requesting geological samples from the Natural History Society years after the fossil plants had been sent out as gifts.64 Nor were the specimens received in exchange for the fossils described as unique or exceptional. Several of them were, after all, listed as
overturned by a careless maid.’107 Emphasizing her thriftiness, the honorary curator described how she had stayed up until the early hours of the morning, meticulously pasting the broken porcelain back together. Lusk Webster’s letters and public speeches were filled with similarly heroic tales that portray her simultaneously as a thrifty, hard-working housewife and an adventurous archaeologist, who, like Currelly, rescued objects from those who did not truly appreciate them. In keeping with such
somewhere in between. The founder of the Newark Museum and his followers argued that the most useful and important kind of museum worker would perform ‘active service, no longer isolated from the everyday life, no longer existing chiefly for the pleasure and enlightenment of the student and the initiated.’74 When Lusk Webster informed Currelly of her decision to enroll Hudson in the apprenticeship program, he responded with dismay, insisting that Hudson receive her museum training from him in
(New York: New York University Press, 2005). 23 Ben Dibley, ‘The Museum’s Redemption: Contact Zones, Government and the Limit of Reform,’ International Journal of Cultural Studies 8.1 (2005): 5–27. See also Bennett, The Birth of the Museum; and James Clifford, ‘Museums as Contact Zones,’ in Routes: Travel and Translation in the Late Twentieth Century (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1997), 188–219. 24 Witcomb, Re-imagining the Museum, 169. 25 T.W. Acheson, Saint John: The Making of a
economy of the museums. While some female associate members of the Natural History Society donated natural history specimens to the collections, ensuring that their names would be recorded in official accession records, Alice Lusk Webster exploited her international connections to secure valuable artworks for permanent display in the New Brunswick Museum. Echoing historian Jordanna Bailkin’s claims, this chapter shows how the modern museum acted ‘both as a compensatory institution for women – a