James Hanken (Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology)
Freshman Seminar 41U 4 credits (spring term) Enrollment: Limited to 12
The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic is taking a huge toll on museums, both causing great harm and forcing long-overdue changes that address new opportunities. This seminar will trace the history of museums from their beginnings centuries ago as personal collections maintained by private (wealthy) individuals to the modern institutions of today, many of which are struggling to survive in the age of Covid. What are museums? Where did they come from? What exactly do they do, and why? Do they have a future? We will consider not only the objects maintained in museums and their conservation, but also the role of museums in contemporary society, financial considerations associated with their successful operation, their dual—and sometimes conflicting—functions of scholarly research and public display, the mechanics and psychology of exhibit design, and legal and ethical issues of collecting and acquisition. The seminar’s focus will range from large art, archaeological, and natural history museums to smaller and more specialized institutions that focus on particular cultural, scientific, artistic, and engineering artifacts. Weekly class meetings, all via Zoom, will include both discussion sessions and virtual field trips to museums and libraries at Harvard and beyond.