Imagine a world without museums

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What are museums? Glorified safes for outdated trinkets and dusty novelties? Ostentatious tourist traps? Any practical excuses for the kids to go on excursions? How about one of our most important ideas?

What would the world be like without museums? Nowhere to go to see a real T-Rex tooth, a lunar module, or bog people. Museums are important because they are invaluable points of collection and contemplation for a species with a complicated past and problems with self-awareness. Somewhere in their wonderful mix of beauty, fact, fiction, lies and error, we discover some crucial truths about us. As such, museums are invaluable gateways to our common humanity.

Hoplite helmet as a time machine. Many artifacts have the power to transport us vast distances in time and space.

Source: Guy P. Harrison

Make a statement. Museums are modern, elaborate versions of those striking prehistoric hands stenciled on cave walls by people who lived tens of thousands of years ago or of this plaque of the Earth placed on the moon in the background. summer 1969. Museums shout to every visitor: “Look at this stuff! The people were here. People got it. We have done things. And you are one of them! “

A single life may be fleeting, but a great museum can connect us to the wonders and richness of all. I walked out of the Hayden Planetarium (Rose Center for Earth and Space, New York), for example, feeling energized, even bigger, because I was emotionally reminded that home is so much more. only one dark rotating spheroid specification.

Thoughtful exhibitions give us tangible proof of our collective achievements, our purpose, our meaning, our vulnerability, our mistakes, our failures …our humanity. I once looked through the vision slit of an ancient hoplite helmet and for a moment felt the gaze of a human face staring at me over 2,000 years ago. I imagined the extremes of courage, fear, pain, rage and triumph that might once have occupied this bronze time capsule of human conflict. This kind of experience is common in museums. An exhibit, even a single artifact, can hold transcendent powers capable of transporting us vast distances in time and space.

Guy P. Harrison

One human life can be a fleeting moment in time, but museums can join us to all of humanity. (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York)

Source: Guy P. Harrison

The first museum. Depending on how we define it, the concept of a museum is at least three or four centuries old. But I would say it goes back much further. If we think of a museum as a place where people can see collections of objects considered to be of value or interest, then I can easily imagine that the first museum existed a million years ago or more.

Imagine an elderly person homo erectus proudly displaying an assortment of beautifully crafted Acheulian hand axes for anyone to see. Maybe there was even an educational section for kids to have fun with handy tools. For as long as humans have had stuff, someone probably felt compelled to show it off.

Guy P. Harrison

Yorba Artefact (American Museum of Natural History)

Source: Guy P. Harrison

Huge museums such as the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum and the British Natural History Museum may attract attention, but the smaller ones have a lot to say too. The Luxor Museum in Egypt, for example, houses a small but unforgettable collection of artifacts bathed in delicate lighting so effectively that a visit can be a hypnotic experience. Pound for pound, this museum could be the best in the world.

But even bad museums can be of value. The Creation Museum (Kentucky, USA), for example, may be a vulgar monument to pseudoscience and deception, but it can teach us important things about American culture and humanity in general. I have visited museums in a few communist countries which were like absurd propaganda supervolcanoes. But they made me think more about patriotism and the national mythologies of all countries.

    Guy P. Harrison

Many of the smallest museums in the world are powerful. (Luxor Museum, Egypt)

Source: Guy P. Harrison

Museums are not lifeless snapshots of the past, but something closer to living organisms in evolution. Much like natural selection, they are subject to pressures from the knowledge base, values ​​and changing perspectives of their society.

Many people today would be horrified by the overtly sexist, racist, nationalist, scientific / historically incorrect and ethnocentric exposures that were common in the past. Those who look back from a 22nd-century perspective will no doubt find much of the museum’s content today false and disturbing.

Guy P. Harrison

Eternal battle cry (Gotland Museum, Sweden)

Source: Guy P. Harrison

Guy P. Harrison

A step in the past (Wooley Mammoth foot, American Museum of Natural History)

Source: Guy P. Harrison

The evil that men do. It has been over twenty years since I visited Yad Vashem, Israel’s National Holocaust Museum and Memorial. However, some of the weight and darkness I experienced there remains with me. I am not a Jew, but I felt deep pain and sorrow that day. I’m not a Nazi, but I felt a biting guilt.

Some museum exhibits can serve as public confessionals or secular altars, places where visitors can learn, pay homage, and get a brief glimpse of the various horrors we so often inflict on each other. Done well, they whisper the warning that perhaps our most important challenge is to accept that each of us carries the potential to be “the monster” and that the ultimate struggle is to change ourselves before we destroy ourselves. (Did I mention the sinister Ground Zero Theater at the National Atomic Testing Museum in Las Vegas?)

Some museums are blatant trophy rooms designed to show only the best of ourselves. It is also a good thing. We need it. A large art museum, for example, reassures me that whatever happens, humanity has not been a total waste of atoms.

Spending a day in an emotional palace like the Louvre or the Metropolitan Museum of Art is proof that even the worst of our wars, our oppression and our neglect cannot erase the beauty that we humans regularly conjure up in from scratch. We can hate it, but we love it too. Destroyers and creators, that’s us.

    Guy P. Harrison

Spectacular museums like the Louvre assure us that, despite all our faults and failures, humanity is something more than a tragic waste of atoms.

Source: Guy P. Harrison

To date, I have visited museums in over 30 countries on six continents and widely sampled the spectrum: big, small, exciting, confusing, pristine, dirty, deep, strange, dishonest, otherworldly, and more. again. I appreciate them all because every museum is part of the human epic. They help us define Homo sapiens.

From the impressive American Museum of Natural History in New York City to the charming and efficient National Museum of the Cayman Islands in Georgetown, Grand Cayman, they count. The religious have their holy places, the music lovers their concert halls and the sportsmen their stadiums. For me, however, it is those exceptional buildings across the world dedicated to preserving the human past, disseminating scientific knowledge, and inspiring. Museums are my cathedrals, their artifacts my sacred relics.

    Guy P. Harrison

Tangible knowledge. (Reconstructed Australopithecus, American Museum of Natural History, NYC)

Source: Guy P. Harrison

To visit museums. Support museums. I love museums. These are our necessary reflections in the mirror, the biased but revealing autobiographies of a species that still seeks to know itself. We need them.


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