University of Cambridge Museums

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‘Curiosity is what museums are here to engender’


Lord Smith of Finsbury

…the words of Lord Smith of Finsbury at the launch of Professor Nicholas Thomas’ new book The Return of Curiosity: what museums are good for in the 21st century.  The book, published this week by Reaktion, draws on the University of Cambridge Museum’s acclaimed Discoveries exhibition which Thomas co-curated with Martin Caiger-Smith in 2014.  The exhibition brought together objects from eight University of Cambridge Museums, exploring knowledge, the pleasures of looking, and the power of objects to generate wonder as well as new ideas. For the first time, the exhibition looked at the University of Cambridge Museum collections as a whole, rather than a series of separate collections.   In his words ‘the book is the upshot of what’s been a wonderful cross-museums and cross-disciplinary partnership; it’s been stimulated by work and conversation with fellow directors and curators, with our brilliant education staff, with conservators, front-of-house people and gallery staff as well as teachers leading school groups, parents and other visitors – the book has been written out of what they all ..have communicated to me about what it is to visit a museum, what it is to be inspired and engaged by one, what it is to each and research from collections.’

Return of CuriosityThe ideas in the book are particularly relevant to us all at this challenging time. At the launch Nicholas Thomas said ‘Museums don’t offer quick fixes to any of our problems, but they do – they still do – give people spaces to be curious, to think, to reflect on human creativity and diversity. Their strength is that they do not tell visitors what to believe; they offer wonderful works of art, natural specimens and sheer oddities, they stimulate interest in the sometimes difficult histories collections represent; they foster cross-cultural curiosity, empathy and tolerance. Difficult years of austerity may be succeeded by years that are more difficult, not only in financial terms. We don’t want museums simply to survive, but to remain open and engaging places that inspire people, sustain and strengthen their sociality, and make communities – which universities also need to contribute to and support – more inclusive and better places to live in. It’s going to be more challenging than it has been, but the effort is more urgent and important than ever.’

Liz Hide, University of Cambridge Museums Officer

3 comments on “‘Curiosity is what museums are here to engender’

  1. Pingback: ‘Curiosity is what museums are here to engender’ — University of Cambridge Museums – C r i s t i a n a *

  2. Pingback: Whewell’s Gazette: Year 2, Vol. #47 | Whewell's Ghost

  3. lyndakelly61
    August 31, 2016

    Thanks for the post. But just wondering where curiosity went for it to return? Museums have long been places where curiosity if fostered and encouraged:

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