Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Museums are not just archives

SideLines, October 2006 (A cross-posting from New Zealand Science History) As in other countries, museums in New Zealand are not just archives or places for storing old things - they are also centres of research, and many are also historical centres of research. Many of the old things kept at museums are important records of early research in New Zealand (e.g. in collections of early letters, photographs, publications, plants, animals, rocks, and a huge range of cultural materials).

As venues for exhibition, museums are able to present the results of research in ways that are accessible for people from all areas of society. They are able to juxtapose old materials and new materials so that we can see how the world around us has been changing, over time.

Over the last hundred years or so, exhibitions have had an important role in the development of research in New Zealand. Research is never important in itself - it is only important if it it is effectively expressed in scientific journals, in newspapers or magazines, in school and university courses, in the continuous development of many different industries, and in exhibitions. Developng an exhibition can be a stimulus for new directions in research, as well as providing a venue for presenting the results of previous research.

At Auckland Museum, the representation of human scientific efforts extends to the 'prehistoric' period (before writing) - with a display showing how the earliest settlers from the tropical Pacific explored and came to understand the natural environment and resources that existed in temperate New Zealand.

Some of the the oldest museums in New Zealand are located in Auckland, Wellington, Whanganui, Christchurch, and Dunedin. Are there old museums in other places in New Zealand? Information from our readers would be welcome (plese click on the link for comments, below).

Photo: experimental toy canoe made from flax, as part of preparation for an exhibition on Vaka Moana (opening at Auckland Museum, December 2006)

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