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Do Museums Still Need Objects?

By Steven Conn

Publication Year: 2010

"We live in a museum age," writes Steven Conn in Do Museums Still Need Objects? And indeed, at the turn of the twenty-first century, more people are visiting museums than ever before. There are now over 17,500 accredited museums in the United States, averaging approximately 865 million visits a year, more than two million visits a day. New museums have proliferated across the cultural landscape even as older ones have undergone transformational additions: from the Museum of Modern Art and the Morgan in New York to the High in Atlanta and the Getty in Los Angeles. If the golden age of museum-building came a century ago, when the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the American Museum of Natural History, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Field Museum of Natural History, and others were created, then it is fair to say that in the last generation we have witnessed a second golden age.

By closely observing the cultural, intellectual, and political roles that museums play in contemporary society, while also delving deeply into their institutional histories, historian Steven Conn demonstrates that museums are no longer seen simply as houses for collections of objects. Conn ranges across a wide variety of museum types—from art and anthropology to science and commercial museums—asking questions about the relationship between museums and knowledge, about the connection between culture and politics, about the role of museums in representing non-Western societies, and about public institutions and the changing nature of their constituencies. Elegantly written and deeply researched, Do Museums Still Need Objects? is essential reading for historians, museum professionals, and those who love to visit museums.

Published by: University of Pennsylvania Press

Series: The Arts and Intellectual Life in Modern America

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Contents

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p. vii

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Introduction: Thinking about Museums

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pp. 1-19

We live in a museum age. At the turn of the twenty-first century more people are going to more museums than at any time in the past, and simultaneously more scholars, critics, and others are writing and talking about museums. The two phenomena are almost certainly related, but it does not seem to be a...

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Chapter 1. Do Museums Still Need Objects?

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pp. 20-57

In the introduction I visited briefly the politics of museums, or more properly the political lenses through which scholars have viewed museums. Here, I want to move from that abstract level to the most specific and basic component of the museum: the object. The purpose of this...

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Chapter 2. Whose Objects? Whose Culture? The Contexts of Repatriation

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pp. 58-85

In the previous chapter I charted the changing—that is, diminishing— role of objects in different museums across the twentieth century. In this chapter I extend that discussion and observe that the museums built in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were conceived of as...

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Chapter 3. Where Is the East?

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pp. 86-137

Three years after winning the Pulitzer Prize for his literary history The Flowering of New England, Van Wyck Brooks followed it up with a sequel. New England: Indian Summer told the story of American literature between the Civil War and the First World War, albeit as the title suggests...

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Chapter 4. Where Have All the Grown-Ups Gone?

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pp. 138-171

When the Wellcome Collection of scientific and medical artifacts opened in its new London digs in June 2007, seventy-nine-year-old Nobel Prize winner James Watson—of Watson and Crick fame—was present as a guest of honor. Looking out at the new exhibits in their new...

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Chapter 5. The Birth and the Death of a Museum

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pp. 172-196

In 2003, wrecking crews arrived on Civic Center Boulevard in Philadelphia and began demolishing the Municipal Auditorium, which had opened in 1931 with much fanfare for its size and for its art deco elegance. Over the years, the auditorium had played host to any number of...

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Chapter 6. Museums, Public Space, and Civic Identity

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pp. 197-232

On November 11, 2006, the art world woke up to the shocking news that Thomas Jefferson University, a venerable and distinguished medical school and research center in Philadelphia, planned to sell The Gross Clinic by Thomas Eakins. It would have been a stunning announcement...

Notes

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pp. 233-256

Index

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pp. 257-260

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Acknowledgments

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pp. 261-262

Buried in the pages of this book is an accumulation of debts owed to many people. Accruing them was a pleasure, and I acknowledge them here with gratitude. Over the last several years I have had the chance to try out many of...


E-ISBN-13: 9780812201659
Print-ISBN-13: 9780812241907

Page Count: 272
Illustrations: 34 illus.
Publication Year: 2010

Series Title: The Arts and Intellectual Life in Modern America
Series Editor Byline: Casey Nelson Blake, Series Editor See more Books in this Series

OCLC Number: 794700592
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Do Museums Still Need Objects?

Research Areas

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Subject Headings

  • Museums -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
  • Museums -- Political aspects -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
  • Museums -- Social aspects -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
  • Cultural property -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
  • Art objects -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
  • Museum exhibits -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
  • Museums -- Collection management -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
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