Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Grad School Dayz

It's my second quarter of the Museology program at UW. I'm enjoying myself, but all of my work seems so much easier than undergrad. I turn in short response papers, have almost no tests, and most of the information I'm learning is basic common sense. I'm not complaining about this light workload, it just makes me question the amount of information I am acquiring.
My main class right now is "Care and Management of Collections," a requirement for the program. We learn how to clean and protect objects, the laws associated with accessioning objects into the collection, and the bone structure of the museum. I understand that museum staff would be lost without learning these important facts, i.e. relative temperature should be low and constant, museums cannot not just throw away an object when they don't want it anymore, etc, but it's not exactly riveting. I also have a lab class where I get to handle art objects and create files for them. This is fun, especially compared to my last quarter when the closest I got to an object was some theoretical idea in a term paper.
But I feel like this common sense work and these legal issues are just as much at the heart of museum practice as theories debating whether the museum is a high-minded place for scholars, or an informal learning site for the public. One main stipulation of an anthropology collection that I find integral to museology is to never assign a monetary value to any object in the collection. An appraisal of anthropological objects is dangerous for two reasons: one, it can fuel an undesirable market for those objects, which encourages the looting of sites by people looking to make a profit from cultural history and two, because that cultural history is truly priceless. No matter how much insurance we assign to a collection of artifacts, if they are damaged or destroyed, they cannot be replaced. And it destroys part of the past, part of a memory, part of a culture. Museum objects hold the stories that can no longer be told by humans.

My part-time job selling baby clothes has cut my hours drastically, due to the off-season and the ailing economy. This leaves me with a lot of time on my hands. And what do I do with my time? Nothing productive until now. I have decided that I need to make a public declaration, even if my father is the only person who will read it, to be more productive and efficient with my time. I have started knitting a poncho for a little cousin, reading for pleasure, and maybe watching some embarrassing family reality tv.
I'm not sure why, but I've started watching "Jon and Kate + 8," a show on TLC that follows the lives of parents, Jon and Kate, who have one set of twins and a set of sextuplets. As much as I usually hate reality shows, this one gives me a deep satisfaction unlike any sitcom. This family is going through the normal transitions from infancy to childhood, albeit the drama is multiplied, and it comforts the viewer to see these common lessons learned. But, as Kate often reminds us, the show is also a documentation of the lives of these children. Without the camera men and editors, many of those happy, angry, sad, moments would be lost in the quotidian hustle and bustle. This kind of documentation is unlike anything in museums; it is an immersive experience to watch the lives of these parents. And these is the kind of documentation that will fill museum shelves of the future. Every object that we produce today has cultural significance, from the most mundane spoon to a television show that represents the "American family." This is how we will be remembered.

I am realizing that maybe the reason I want to work in a museum is not only to be able to look at beautiful things all day, not only to teach people about art and history, but also because I am scared of forgetting the fleeting past. I'm scared of the loose ends unraveling, leaving me without a woven pattern. Only pieces.