2 small thoughts on old empire museums

I began the week with Courtney Johnston’s blog. She’s rebutting a reactionary blogpost from the UK, which states that Museums must be enlightenment scholars of objects, and that any community perspectives are of little value when set against (and it is ‘against’) scholarship (western, obv). Her amazing response was a great way to start the week.

What grabbed me in particular was her quotation from Mark O’Neill

The sense of being the invisible centre is reinforced by the exemption of one culture in each museum from scrutiny – that of the metropolitan country itself. 

This touches on one bugbear of mine. Once a person or organisation decides to apply disinterested rational enquiry to everyone but themselves, they’re bad scholars and should be called out as such.

After a few days reflection, another point occurred to me. Enlightenment thinking is teleological; it runs in one way, which is assumed to be towards ‘better’. The very framing of’old empire museum’ principles is towards a complete, completist, collection and body of knowledge, and that is self-evidently ‘better’. The notion, therefore, of contested meanings, of returning to communities for a new perspective that may unravel that linear journey, must be resisted if the enlightenment isn’t to fail on its own terms. It’s an internal failure of the frame of reference.

Disclaimer / announcement of humility: Since moving to Australia two years ago, I have learnt a lot. And I have been [forced to / able to] reflect on past experience differently. The above is me wrestling with it. My lacking of deep scholarship doesn’t really equip me to demonstrate and reference any of that and i’m perfectly happy to be shot down for sub-undergrad theorising 😉