29 January 2007

Adam Gopnik on Museums

I love it when parts of my life - especially my academic life - intersect. I know other history students have had similar experiences to me, experiences in which the subject matter of one class overlaps with another. I cannot say why, but it brings me incredible pleasure to have this happen.

In both my public history class last term, and in my class on museology this term, we tackled the history of the museum. And we talked about it from a variety of points of view.

So when I heard on the CBC that Adam Gopnik would be speaking on the history and role of museums, I was, well, elated. I set my alarm clock to go off ten minutes before the program started so that I could get myself set up with pen and paper to take notes, and place a bowl of red grapes beside me (Weird, eh? You really didn't need to know that. I am trying to give you a picture. Relax).

I sat down to listen and write. Unfortunately, Gopnik is a great thinker and orator.

Sorry. I mean that it is fortunate for us to have intellectuals like Adam Gopnik out there, thinking and talking. It is unfortunate, however, that my pen cannot keep up with the great ideas he spewed forth at his talk.

On the plus side, however, the CBC’s website tells me that the talk will be available on podcast soon, so I will revisit it then. But for now, I am going to include just a few of my brief notes on what Gopnik said. I am not going to elaborate. I just want them to sit there for you (and me!) to contemplate:

The Mindful Museum. His vision of what the new museum will be.

Like Molly, he wants rid of the audio guide.

Museum as metaphor. A central arena of sociability. A central meeting place.

Adam Gopnik brings to the public what I learn in the academic world.

Museum as mall. A museum that has been drained of all of its old function.

My brother called me during the talk (another factor in my inability to keep up with Gopnik's talk). He lives in Toronto, where Gopnik's talk was recorded (at the ROM). I was doubly (twos seem to be a theme for this post, don’t you think) pleased when he told me that, firstly, he tried to go to the talk, and secondly, that he could not because it was sold out. "Packed," in his words.

I was happy he tried to go to the talk because, well, he is my brother, and the talk was on a topic close to my life. I was also glad when he told me it was sold out, because that means that many people care about museums and public history.

Of course, many of those in attendance at the Gopnik talk were probably there simply because it was a Gopnik talk; they most likely would have gone regardless of the subject matter. Nevertheless, those same people were exposed to a public intellectual expounding upon a public history subject. That means more people are thinking (and hopefully talking) about history.

Good news, I'd say. At least for us public historians.

1 comment:

G. Paul Cox said...

Did you ever hear the podcast or no where I can find it?

Many thanks,

Paul Cox
Research Associate
Baker-Nord Institute