The Universal Museum (Andrea Terrón, Senior Fellow 2018)

Andrea Terrón (Guatemala, ITP 2017,  Senior Fellow 2018)

A new session was added to the ITP’s 2018 Summer Programme: The Universal Museum with Alice Stevenson (Senior Lecturer in Museum Studies, UCL). During the session fellows were separated into 5 groups and asked to list their museum’s collections and think of connections and histories that could contextualize their collections. In particular, I found information on the subject of “object biographies” particularly interesting. Object Biographies can be defined as follows:

  • Objects have a story to tell, one that has been shaped by human use
  • Objects collect stories in different contexts
  • Objects have a life or many lives
  • Depending on time, there are different histories
  • Objects are makers of conversations

These ideas can relate to “The Relational Museum”: museums that potentially can present local and familiar histories in the context of global stories.  According to a project entitled “The Relational Museum” at the Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford (2002-2006), the main idea was to look at the relationships between the objects and people in a historical context, thinking about continuity and change.

It is important to consider that some museum visitors want to see how objects came to be in a particular collection, far away from their original setting; I believe when re displaying permanent galleries in the future, curators should consider including information on the history of collecting and why collections were acquired in the first place.

Why collect at BM

Room 2 in the British Museum

Objects present many histories because each object is important to different people for different reasons. An object can be interpreted in so many ways depending on the people who come into contact with it: starting from the people and cultures that made them who collected them, how and when, and all the curators that have seen these objects, have left their mark on this object biography. This also explains why documentation and archival processes in museums are so important, as museums professionals, we cannot forget the object histories which give us new perspectives on future museum projects, making them more real and veridical.

During the session on Universal Museums the 2018 summer programme group were able to see from how many countries their objects where coming from and started to tell the stories they knew about them. During this session, we could see how many levels of interpretation the trainees can work with, never forgetting objects histories and how connected we all are in our world histories.

Alice session

Universal Museum session