CALL FOR PAPERS. Supplement of Brukenthal. Acta Musei, no. 6
History, Memory, Oblivion. Museums and Museum Collections as “Spaces” of Remembrance
Over time, the museum as a space of exhibition was subject to a series of qualitative metamorphic processes. From
the perspective of museum history, the 16th-18th centuries are the age ofmarvel rooms. Collections of objects were repertoires of the world, belonging rather to science than to the art of astonishing. Such rooms placed their exhibits according to contiguity relations, not according to principles of temporal succession. Sharing the same space was the sign of a similar time frame, suggesting the viewer that the congestion made them consubstantial.
The first collections staged the harmony of Creation, the sheer interdependence of living species and ages. They were not illustrations of a certain moment in the human tale; they attempted to legitimate their place in the Universe. The public appreciated the amazing, the indefinite, the incomparable, as science had to contain a component of display, mystery, and stupor. [Think of the Italian stupore! The author mistranslates into English. “Marvel!” or ‘Wonder” works better. (Tom Cohen’s York comment here!)] Later the “quaintness” gained a different role, a more temperate one, due to thecuriosity cabinets. In an apparent disorder (stuffed animals, fossils, shells, minerals, coins, skeletons, manuscripts, works of art), the collections of the 17th-18th centuries summarized the already known world, illustrating the four elements and the harmony of Creation (Krzysztof Pomian). The shift from themarvel rooms towards the curiosity cabinets denotes a mutation from the proneness to a large variety of exhibits to the interest in objects collectable in series, species, and categories. These categories are not the result of a sudden preoccupation for systematization, but rather the effect of a random accumulation of exhibits, thrown onto the market as a response to the high demand for the wild and the exotic. The moment when the humans notice the “kinship” of somewhat similar objects triggers the starting point for an initial identification, outside the temporal axis, based on resemblances between things; the differencesmultiply as the number of acquisitions grows. Under these circumstances, the favorable conditions for their historicizing emerge, along with stages and evolutions which are dawning.
The modern age installs the institutionalized museification, involving the acts of inventory, chronology, interpretation, and conservation. The material and written sources find their own way. There were different approaches to distinguish between the artifact employed as a source of historical research and the one brought to the museum as the product of an age: in the former case, the object was treated as a “trace”, a “reminiscence” or an “echo” of the past, from which we deliberately take a distance with a view to an objective reconstruction, while in the latter, the fragmented or complete exhibit was approached as a living witness of history, as a time capsule which offered a given past moment we were connected to. The modern museum acquires the mission to bring us in touch with the tangible traces of history, providing us with past images and representations, rather than with information. The latter category is to be found in the literature, which is concerned with understanding the succession of facts, chronologies, main actors, and periods. The long transition from the collection to the museum is based on the passage from the exhibit – “monument” (worshipped for its own sake, with no contextualization, comparison, or historical background) to the “episode”, which is important for its ability to become compatible with other artifacts, old and new, illustrating a certain type of historicization. Representations about history have their own historicity, the life of the museum capitalizing on them quite faithfully.
In its evolution from the primary meaning, the museum is now turned into a memorial interface between visitors and curators, between objects and narratives, claiming the consensus or disproof of the past, as well as a re-construction of various forms of identity. In fact, the modern museum has held a key position in shaping the national discourse, promoting social cohesion and collective identity. As a cultural institution, this space can act as a genuine lieu de mémoire, in Pierre Nora’s terms, with no obvious reference to the museum or other cultural institutions per se. The process of accelerating history reflects the distinction between the social, authentic memory and the artificial instrument of organizing the past – history – threatening to keep too few characteristics of what real memory entails. These lieux de mémoire defined by the intention to rememorize come to preserve the memory, which was damaged by its own environment (milieu de mémoire). A place of memory simultaneously holds a set of material, symbolic, and functional polyvalence.
Pierre Nora’s conceptualization was criticized by those who pointed out the insufficient and inadequate definition of the projected terms, placed more under the spell of nostalgia. Nevertheless, thelieux de mémoire rightfully reflect the connections between history, past, and memory, and allow a reconstruction of the past in the present, endowing the notion of history with flexibility and counteracting the dynamics of oblivion.
Starting from these conceptual formulations and working hypotheses, the future issue ofBrukenthalia. Romanian Cultural History Review. Supplement of Brukenthal. Acta Musei proposes to explore the relation between history, memory, oblivion and “spaces” of remembrance, with a focus on museum collections and the essentialized re-imagining of the past.
We are obviously interested in the paths taken by museums or museum collections in various historical periods (from the Renaissance to the recent history), but also in approaching concepts and projects of museum spaces interested in revaluing popular taste. We are also interested in debates on dilemmatic projects (i.e. proposals, accomplishments, and failures) such as the museums of communism and death (in post-communist Europe, e.g. the Hungarian experience), museums of cinema “schools” and national cinemas.
The relation between the work of art and micro-history has a special space in our interest:
1. Song (see histories of cult songs and histories of military, love, and prison songs)
2. Film (see histories of cult art films or the historical value of certain documentary films)
3. Visual art (see paintings, sculptures, architectural monuments which preserve or uncover events; e.g. Rembrandt’s The Night Watch).
The Miscellanea section will focus this year especially on the previously launched subject – the culture of war in the 20th century. We also welcome reviews of important books in the area of cultural history.
The deadline for proposals (title, short abstract) is April 15, 2016. The selected papers will be announced on May 25. The deadline for sending the articles is August 1.
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