Taming agendas

21 Mar
In The Thrill of Science, Tamed by Agendas, part of last week’s New York Times museums special, Edward Rothstein posits Wellcome Collection’s expansiveness:
One of the most astonishing collections I have seen is the Wellcome Collection, also in London. It includes moccasins owned by Florence Nightingale, Napoleon’s toothbrush, amputation saws, an array of prosthetic limbs, a Portuguese executioner’s mask, Etruscan votive offerings and obstetrical forceps. Henry Wellcome, who had made his fortune with the invention of the medicinal pill, owned over a million objects by the mid-1930s and imagined them fitting into a great “Museum of Man” that would encyclopedically trace humanity’s concerns with the body. After his death, the collection was partly dispersed, but even what is left is as exhilarating as it is bewildering. You look at such collections and sense an enormous exploratory enterprise. You end up with an enlarged understanding of the world’s variety and an equally enlarged sense of the human capacity to make sense of it.
against science museums with more specific and critical agendas:
This model of advocacy has even become explicit at the Liberty Science Center in New Jersey, where its president, Emlyn Koster, has stressed his wish for “relevancy” and an interest in developing “social and environmental responsibility.” The flaws in the natural order remain precisely the same. Humans, we learn in various exhibitions, “pose the greatest danger” to certain creatures, “damage” the climate and are in turn threatened by disaster and pandemic. Humanity isn’t only decentered; it is decentering.

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