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My Adventures in blogging, digital and Public History

Monday, December 18, 2006

Museum of Perception

The Museum of Jurassic Technology would probably not be considered a museum in the traditional sense by any number of people. In Mr. Wilson’s Cabinet of Wonders, Lawrence Weschler describes the museum and its exhibits in all their ‘kooky’ glory. He explains an exhibit featuring Geoffrey Sonnebend’s strange ‘memory’ theory which actually deals with forgetting. Further, Weschler describes another museum inhabitant, the Megaloponera foetens or Cameroonian stink ant which can emit a cry audible to the human ear and who also sprouts a horn out of the top of its head after inhaling a certain fungal spore. Perhaps one of the most unbelievable exhibits is a collection of letters to government officials, detailing ‘actual’alien abductions or invasions.

Untraditional in its approach, should David Wilson’s collection still be considered a museum? I would say that it should. A museum isn’t just a collection of artefacts which are the accepted ‘norm’. In fact, I would argue that any collection which makes the patron think critically about artefacts, ideas and theories has value as a museum. In fact, Weschler seems to have spent a great deal of time trying to validate the authenticity and the accuracy of the Jurassic’s exhibits. He seems to have been confused by the ‘legitimacy’ of the exhibits themselves as well as the aim of the curator. Ultimately, after much research and thought, he has come to the conclusion that the exhibits hold snippets of the ‘truth’ but that the museum itself is much more than a collection of strange artefacts.

I would argue that The Museum of Jurassic Technology is a museum of perception. The exhibits are part of the curator’s perception of reality. Whether the viewer or patron believes this reality is a choice he or she must make. Maybe the patron has a different interpretation. Or maybe the exhibits force the viewer to think critically about the exhibit or even its creation on the first place. And just maybe, this is what Wilson intended. It seems to me that his creative and fantastical approach generates feelings and emotions, and I would imagine, more than a little bit of controversy. In regard to his approach, I would say, isn’t that the point? Why go to an exhibit if you are going to leave without having had some response to what you have seen?

Wechsler’s search for the ‘truth’ also brings up another fundamental question, that being, who is really qualified to be the purveyor of ‘truth’? Again I would say that ruth is a matter of perception and interpretation. Truths have an inherent bias or point of view that is not always shared. There are of course facts that are not generally disputed. However, the interpretation of the facts is often different and therefore, potentially constitutes a different truth for each individual.

As Public Historians it is not really our job to be purveyors of ‘truth’. Rather, I think we collect, interpret and present evidence. Of course, although we may try to avoid it ( or maybe not), our personal biases may be evident. I think the best we can hope for as Public Historians is to engage our audience and have them leave a museum with something more than a t-shirt.


Blogger bryan andrachuk said...

Nice one, Kelly. You know, aside from teechnology, aliens are my second biggest fear?

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