Museum Reform

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EVERY one who puts faith in museums as educational engines must be grateful to Prof. Boyd Dawkins for the article on this subject in the number of NATURE for May 31. That reform is pressingly needed in most of our provincial museums is a proposition almost beyond question; but how such reform can be best effected is a subject open to any amount of discussion. The primary difficulty in organising a museum is usually a difficulty of finance. Money, which measures all things, measures the curator's power of procuring glass cases and suitable specimens. Where, then, the resources of a museum are very limited, the greatest amount of good will probably be effected by confining attention to the formation of local collections. Such work, being restricted within a narrow sphere, may be done thoroughly, even in the poorest museum. Yet it is work which will be valued by every true student of science. Prof. Blackie, in his “Self Culture,” gives excellent advice when he says: “In order to assist in forming habits of observation in this age of locomotion I should advise young men never to omit visiting the local museums of any district, as often as they may have an opportunity; and when there to confine their attention generally to that one thing which is the most characteristic of the locality.” Now it often happens that the things most characteristic of the locality are hardly thought worth exhibiting, and are precisely the things that we do not find in a provincial museum. Only last week I had occasion to visit a museum of thoroughly old-fashioned type, and to my surprise I found that the mineral industries of the neighbourhood, though of great importance, were absolutely unrepresented, whilst unlabelled curiosities collected from every quarter of the globe were heaped together in defiance of all principles of classification. It is true there is great temptation for a curator to display a little of everything, and a specimen from the Antipodes is no doubt regarded as a greater curiosity than a specimen from the neighbouring hills. But if a small museum is to have any educational value worth naming, its aims should be restricted, at least in the early stages of its development. Many museums undoubtedly teach too little by attempting to teach too much.

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RUDLER, F. Museum Reform. Nature 16, 140 (1877) doi:10.1038/016140c0

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