Memory Institutions


Kim H. Veltman

Trends and Perspectives: The New Technologies

Panel, European Museum Forum, Palazzo Reale di Pisa, 19 May 2001. Published as: European Museum Forum, Palazzo Reale di Pisa, 2001, Quaderni. Cultura Europea e Musei, Pontedera: Fondazione Piaggio, Nuova Serie, no. 1, 2002, pp. 144-157.
With an Italian translation: “Tendenze e prospettive: le nuove tecnologie.”

New technologies are changing many aspects of our approach to objects in museums. In his words of welcome, Professor Benedetti, pointed to a paradox that museums are traditionally collections of objects, the original contexts of which have been destroyed or at least de-contextualized: i.e. the majority of museum objects were once in churches, palaces, homes, factories and other buildings which have since changed in function or no longer exist.

This decontextualization has shifted as the nature of museums has shifted in scope. For instance, during the Renaissance, the Uffizi reflected the personal collections of a powerful Medici family. During the 19th century museums and galleries became universal in their scope: e.g. the British Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum (London), the Louvre (Paris) or the Smithsonian (Washington etc.). This universalism brought with it new problems. Only the "best" pieces could be displayed. Hence, much of the collection was relegated to basements and storage areas. Technologies were used to show off pieces, which were in fashion and to hide the rest. During the 20th century this notion of universalism in a single institution was largely abandoned. In its place arose the idea that there could be museums about topics, which were previously ignored: industry, water, farms, trains, or which did not exist in earlier centuries: planes, buses, cars, games. As we enter the 21st century there are visions of a new distributed universalism, whereby collections from museums scattered throughout the world can be integrated on-line to create new virtual and imaginary museums.

Some of these will be constructed by museum professionals. Others will be constructed by private individuals, general users, members of the public. Kunst and Wunderkammers were once a hobby of an aristocratic elite. New technologies potentially allow "everyman" to create their own virtual equivalents of such collections. Low level versions of such personal museums can be free (as on the website of the Metropolitan Museum), while high level versions with high quality images are likely to come with a fee attached.

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