In the past twenty years the discipline of material culture has developed at an accelerated pace, with scholars turning more frequently to objects housed within museum collections to aid and inform their research. Our primary observation is that a greater level of collaboration has occurred between museums and academia during this period; this collaboration is significant as curators and scholars contribute to define the understanding of history in museums. Nevertheless, much work remains to be done in order to bridge the gap between academia and the heritage sector, and this workshop seeks to address some of these issues with a particular focus on communication between scholars and curators.
Academic research employing the use of museum collections is often heavily reliant upon well-established theoretical frameworks, and it could be argued that scholars do not always go far enough in incorporating museum objects into their research. This can sometimes be a result of the gap in curatorial skills that limit the extent to which an academic scholar is able to conduct comprehensive object-based research; communication between scholars and curators is therefore necessary in order to enrich the outcome of academic research by sharing curatorial knowledge and skills. Moreover, there are scholars who would benefit from object-based research but who do not engage at present with museum collections; this workshop will also explore how we can communicate the benefits of utilising museum collections within the wider research community.
Furthermore, recent developments have introduced new standpoints with regards to the academia/museum relationship. In museums, whilst research plays a central role in the dissemination of knowledge to its various audiences, this can sometimes lack the wide-ranging and interdisciplinary approach of academic research. Often collection-based and centred on objects, museum research would benefit greatly from the input of academic scholars in order to understand collections better in the context of cutting-edge historical research. Indeed, the practical difficulty of updating permanent exhibitions at the pace of historical research has demanded alternative solutions for presenting historical artefacts and communicating their relevance. One effect of the introduction of research centres within museums has been to restore the museum’s function as a place for the creation and discussion of knowledge.
We argue that communication between curators and scholars is required in order to create a cohesive and responsible museographic strategy. Curators should not fear the views of scholars, whilst scholarship should not ignore the potential of utilising permanent exhibitions as the outcome of historical enquiry. Therefore,
- how can academic and museum research be integrated through the communication between disciplines?
- how can museums employ academic research in order to aid the public understanding of history?
- and how can academia benefit from permanent museum displays?
- has the creation of some research centres within museums improved the collaborative relationship between scholars and curators?