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Museums and American Intellectual Life, 1876-1926
by Steven Conn
During the last half of the nineteenth century, many of the country's most celebrated museums were built. In this original and daring study, Steven Conn argues that Americans, endowed with the belief that knowledge resided in objects themselves, built these institutions with the confidence that they could collect, organize, and display the sum of the world's knowledge. Con ...more
Paperback, 314 pages
Published December 1st 2000 by University Of Chicago Press
(first published December 1st 1998)
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This is another narrative describing what historians were up to in the early 20 th century, and thus works well with Novick’s That Noble Dream and Tyrell’s Historians in Public. But Conn is focused exclusively on museums and how those museums conceived of their role in society. The basic narrative he posits is that in the late 19th century and early 20 th, museums and scientists used an “object based epistemology” in which the visual examination of specimens by the naked (and even untrained) eye ...more
Conn argues that American museums founded in the late 19th century were rooted in an object-based epistemology, wherein meaning and knowledge are innately accessible through material objects. Conn examines how a variety of museological institutions framed different fields of knowledge through collection and exhibition practices.More specifically, Conn looks at the differences between natural history, anthropology, history, art, and technology, as each institution attempted to synthesis and disse ...more
This book has been sitting on my shelf for ages, and I can't believe it took me so long to pick it up! The basic argument is that during the late 19th century, museums and universities were fighting it out to see who would be the dominant American intellectual institution. How would knowledge be organized? How would the public be taught? The repurcussions of all of this are things museums still struggle with today.