Speaker Series Recap – From Kuriositätenkabinett to ‘Cabinet of Virtual Reality’: the evolution of the museum.

On Tuesday, September 28th 2021, EDHS hosted the virtual Speaker Series presentation by Myriam Gerber, PhD candidate, titled From Kuriositätenkabinett to ‘Cabinet of Virtual Reality’: the evolution of the museum. 

For an online audience of 46 members and guests, Myriam illustrates the emergence of the modern museum from early European collections  – so-called Wunderkammernor cabinets of curiosities – to the latest technological advances in museums in the 21st century. While early collections served as educational objects, they were only accessible to a small elite, and functioned to enhance and highlight the status of the collector. 

By the 19th century, the first public museums began to emerge, making collections accessible to all social classes. Governments began to recognize cultural institutions, such as museums and libraries, as useful vehicles to transform the masses into ‘citizens.’ The consumption of culture through, for example, galleries and public lectures, was thought to reform the Self. Through mingling with the higher classes in these public spaces, it was believed that the lower classes would learn new forms of behaviour through imitation.  

The architecture and exhibition layout of public museums also contributed to the controlled and slowed movement of visitors through the museal space. With the emergences of new epistemologies, for example, genetics and evolution, museal narratives began to connect human history with natural history. Through the representation of the relationships between human and animal, and between different cultures and societies, North American and European culture were depicted as ‘civilized’ while the historicization of other peoples represented them as ‘primitive.’  

During the 20th century, new social movements were increasingly represented and reflected in museal spaces as well. For example, the interest in ‘history from below’ began to shift the focus of museums from elites and structures to the lives of ordinary people. By the 21st century, museums do not only reflect a fascinating range of topics, but have also evolved alongside technological trends, making it possible for visitors to connect with other eras, places and experiences through virtual realities. The use of technology in museums does not only provide a highly immersive experience, but also makes art, entertainment, culture and education accessible to many individuals in novel ways, for example, by enabling persons who are visually impaired to experience paintings.  

Our next online Speaker Series presentation will be Searching for Izena Ross by Katherine O’Neill, YMCA Edmonton CEO & Searching for Izena project co-chair on October 26th 2021 at 7:30pm.