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4 - Museums and Collecting as/and Media in the Digital Age

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  16 July 2022

Johannes Endres
Affiliation:
University of California, Riverside
Christoph Zeller
Affiliation:
Vanderbilt University, Tennessee
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Summary

IN THIS ESSAY I EXAMINE select museum responses to new media in order to develop ways of thinking about the changing contours of institutionalized collecting in the digital age. My approach is grounded in a conception of the museum as a discrete medial form whose operations have been and will remain crucial in shaping important aspects of collecting as a social practice and form of cultural memory. As I think of them, museums operate by means of key processes, practices, and competencies involved in organizing, classifying, assigning meaning, and remembering objects, both materially in space and in interaction with medial forms prevailing at particular historical moments. Conceived this way, museum processes and competencies are not the sole purview of museums as we have come to know them, nor have they been in the past. As an analysis of select historical junctures of medial rupture and institutional change shows, these processes and competencies have at times been shared with, or shaped by, other discrete media, institutions, and actors beyond current configurations of museums as they are known today. In addition to illuminating why museums are unlikely the victim of media substitution outright, an analysis of such a juncture raises the expectation that museums can and will experience reconfigurations relative to other entities with which they share their key processes.

I will present my argument in three parts. First, I will briefly delineate my conception of the museum as medium, with an eye toward linking museal processes with long-standing functions museums have had in arbitrating the world and organizing knowledge about it. As the analysis in part 2 will make clear, these functions remain connected with collecting through several historical junctures, in ways related to memory and knowledge production that can be expected to persist into the digital age in significant ways. To demonstrate this, the analysis will mark shifts in what Paula Findlen has described in terms of a dispositif manifested by various forms of media of memory and learning from the Renaissance to the present. Here I will focus on two points: first the intertwined and privileged roles collecting and earlier conceptions of the “museum” have had in generating the value and meaning of objects. And second, how collections-based practices helped develop cognitive capacities to cope with the increasing amount of knowledge created by forms of new media that today is called “information overload.”

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Chapter
Information
Collecting in the Twenty-First Century
From Museums to the Web
, pp. 79 - 92
Publisher: Boydell & Brewer
Print publication year: 2022

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