Tuesday, 4 April 2017




When I first started writing for Collections Corner, it was always part of the plan to deconstruct the collections themselves. In my first post I went a little beyond that; I discussed (or mused, if you will) about the nature of and act of collecting. I wanted to better understand why we collect and why the act is so important to us not just on an individual level, but a societal level as well. The foundation of museums is the act of collecting objects and information, but there are also millions of artifacts that museums turn away. There is a constant push and pull between placing value on objects we think are special

and knowing when we've crossed the line

Then are things that are universally accepted as special, but are destroyed anyway. That's the catch-22 of preservation: once it is publicly known that an item or building has been deemed worthy of saving, it automatically becomes that much more vulnerable. Special objects and buildings implicitly target themselves by definition. Would the Parthenon have been targeted in 1687 if it weren't so magnificent? The ruins now have their own archaeological and historical value, as people specifically photograph the most damaged parts:

As fascinating as it is to see the physical evidence of an ancient war, I personally would rather see the remains of a well-preserved Parthenon. Just like I'd love to see the millions of objects that were destroyed or stolen from the Nation Museum of Iraq in Baghdad. 

That's just one of many horrific and recent examples of Western armies either actively participating in the destruction of artifacts, illegally confiscating them, or standing by and doing nothing as profiteers and looters ruin centuries of methodical scholarship. This is a heinous crime that happens on all sides of conflict, and the West is far from innocent. The propaganda that we are saturated with will have its own historical value eventually, but for now I do my best to willfully ignore and denounce it whenever I am able to spot it. But I am not immune to political manipulation. No one is. And because I am a very flawed individual, so too will I at some point feed into a systemic issue that will result in the destruction of something that cannot be replaced.

I don't mean to place inordinate value on things over human beings, but our material culture represents the intangible things we value about ourselves and our loved ones. We don't keep photographs because we love flimsy paper, we keep them because we want to remember the important things in life. It's perfectly valid to have a clean and empty sanctuary, but my sanctuary is filled with things I love, and it is made exponentially more valuable when it is filled with people I love, people with whom I can share those objects and share stories. I've been lucky enough to connect with people on such a level that going into their home and seeing their stuff is like seeing another part of myself:

This might be my last Collections Corner entry, and I want to end it by saying what a joy it's been to re-examine my relationship with objects and material culture. I've been pleasantly surprised at how thought provoking and emotional a journey it has been. I was always aware of the power of objects and how they connect us to ourselves and others through storytelling, but it's one thing to understand that on a rational and academic level, and quite another to feel it in your heart. I hope that my musings have been enlightening in at least the first way. 


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