Ivan Gaskell: "Everything or Nothing? What do University Museums Know?"

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Ivan Gaskell, Professor of Cultural History and Museum Studies, Bard Graduate Center, NYC, USA: "Everything or Nothing? What do University Museums Know?"

This paper examines two questions regarding museums, in particular museums that are parts of universities. Are museums properly sites of scholarship? Can museums that are parts of universities contribute substantively to the generation of scholarship, or are they merely subsidiary, fostering public relations and, at best, serving as teaching tools? In the nineteenth century and for much of the twentieth century, specialized collections were demonstrably helpful, and often vital, to scholars in creating bodies of knowledge within an entire A to Z of disciplines, from anthropology to zoology. Yet that usefulness has not survived unequivocally into the twenty-first century. If museums are to be truly effective as sites of scholarship, they will have to become far more adaptable and permeable in terms of transdisciplinary inquiry. Museums that are parts of universities are in a particularly good position to develop in this manner, though certain structural adaptations, varying from institution to institution, will need to be implemented.

Ivan Gaskell is Professor of Cultural History and Museum Studies at Bard Graduate Center, New York City. Mobilizing non-written traces of the past, he addresses intersections among history, art history, anthropology, and philosophy. As well as writing case studies ranging from seventeenth-century Dutch and Flemish paintings, Native American baskets, and Congo textiles, he works on underlying philosophical questions. While at Cambridge University, he edited the book series Cambridge Studies in Philosophy and the Arts with Salim Kemal. He organized numerous exhibitions at Harvard University, where he taught and curated between 1991 and 2011. At Bard Graduate Center, as well as teaching in the Masters and PhD programs, Gaskell heads the Focus Project, an ongoing series of experimental exhibitions and publications. He is the author, co-author, editor, or co-editor of twelve books, his most recent (with Laurel Ulrich, Sara Schechner, and Sarah Anne Carter) being Tangible Things: Making History through Objects (2015). He has contributed to numerous scholarly journals and edited volumes in history, art history, anthropology, and philosophy. Gaskell is Research Associate in Anthropology of both the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology at Harvard University, and of the American Museum of Natural History, New York City, and is Permanent Senior Fellow of the Lichtenberg-Kolleg (Advanced Study Institute) of the Georg-August University, Göttingen.