Category Archives: museum

Night at the Museum, real-history style

Speaking of museums, here is the new Night at the Museum story. I was curious to see it. First, a movie about history coming alive – or actually being alive – is a great idea. It’s stimulating for the young minds and it deserves support just for that. Second, I was also interested in it as a postmodern application of the concept that the past is constantly rethought and reworked in people’s minds. It’s also a fantastic example of what I said in my previous post: that museum artifacts are important in themselves as symbolic carriers of traditions, but what ultimately counts is what we make out of them and how they play out in our public consciousness.

However, if you want to find some special insight on history, or even something fun about it, this is definitely not the movie to see. Artifacts do come alive in this night at the Smithsonian, but they behave as their most stereotypical and one-dimension selves. Napoleon is only worried that others might think he is short. Tiny mass-produced Einsteins in the museum store are bouncing their heads in relativistic yes-no indecision. Worst of all – and most offensive – Amelia Earhart is a flirty red-head whose fixation is mainly to get the protagonist night guard to pay any sort of romantic attention to her. Continue reading

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Globalization of cultural heritage and nationalism

Nefertiti in the Egyptian Museum in BerlinIf you pay attention to the info notes at an archeology museum, you’d notice most items were acquired before 1970s. After the UNESCO Convention on Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import and Export of  Cultural Property of 1970, ancient treasures have rarely crossed borders to become part of the permanent collections of world museums.

It seems like a great thing. After all, isn’t it disturbing that the most important museums in the world are venerable institutions founded around the time their countries were significant colonial powers. Their roles, beyond geopolitical conquering, was to rescue ancient treasures of civilizations past from their ancestral lands, where they weren’t appreciated enough, to the metropolis of the current cultural dominant.

The concept of museums was invented in the Enlightenment and developed during the Romanticism. While previously just erudites collected ancient artifacts privately, now collections were public. There was a specific ideology behind museums. They played a role in colonialism’s conscious drive to take on the baton from ancient civilizations. Conquering a land included also the intellectual conquest of its discovery for humankind. Continue reading

Dolls, uninterrupted

In July, I had the chance to visit an interesting store in New Orleans, Oh Susannah Doll Shop – all things doll, but, alas, with little time to peruse thoroughly and decide which of the precious items I was most in love with so that I would purchase it. The collection was outrageously varied, ranging from tiny plastic babies in a carriage to large, upsettingly realistic representations of girls as dolls in poses totally incompatible with what normally is perceived as “dollness”: dolls that express emotions (of fear or boredom), in awkward positions, in highly personalized clothing. These dolls can’t be really dolls in the traditional sense, because they are not blank, they are not the tabula rasa a girl wants to project onto it her own self-representation. They are an individual artist’s rendition of a girl idea, a sculpture to be admired rather than a toy to be handled and integrated into someone’s life. And that brings the question of what a doll really is and what dolls do. Are they age-limited, in terms of representation and user? Are Grandma Claus real dolls, if they do not reflect any girl’s identity, the way a Barbie may do? What about a boy-doll? Dolls are also a fertile terrain for feminist inquiry. What do men mean when they call a woman “doll”? Continue reading

Learning Spanish in 1917

spanishtextbook4Yesterday, I got a surprise amazon.com package in the mail. It wasn’t a mistaken order sent by amazon.com, it was a recycled box in which a dear friend was sending me some old books from a local antiquarian she thought I would find “fun.” They were three fiction books published in the early XX century in the US, by Spanish authors nobody is interested in today. And a fourth one, First Spanish Course from 1917, essentially a Spanish textbook for US college students. Wow! We’ve gone a long way in teaching languages since then. Continue reading