More on “Forecasting the Future of History Museums”

Curiosity rover self-portrait

Curiosity rover self-portrait (NASA/JPL-Caltech/Malin Space Science Systems)

Durel’s #1 is very mercenary (and yeah, the positive children’s museum and STEM examples serve as evidence that mercenary need not equal icky results) and I worry a bit about the overall message of needing a mission statement. It’s a very corporate thing, a step down the slippery slope of monetizing everything.

I’m uncomfortable with that in general, and worry especially in fields that impinge on academic and artistic. History’s more obviously useful than, say, close readings of seventeenth century poetry…but “useful” is not necessarily obvious, nor should it be the only gauge of value. I like the idea of, say, humanity spreading outside of the solar system, and if I wanted to rationalize such an expensive undertaking I guess I’d cite the environmental concerns expressed by characters in Cyteen and Babylon 5, because really, what is more “useful” than survival of the species? But honestly, when I see pictures of the surface of Mars I’m not thinking in terms of a foothold in an alternate (but rather unfriendly) biosphere. I’m thinking that we ought to go to Mars just because. I’m aware that “just because” is a slippery rationale, and can lead to courses of action that can be deemed deeply problematic (or worse).

But still. I want humans to go to Mars just because. I want to tell the stories of dead people just because. I want somebody to own every word Donne wrote just because.

Durel’s #1 ties into #8, the increasing “Business Thinking” of public history professionals. Given my general impulse to laud interdisciplinary efforts, it feels a tad hypocritical to automatically discount any possible benefits to learning from CEOs. (Yeah, “business” is a fake discipline that was invented in the nineteenth century, the bastard child of modern industrial society and a scramble for wealth and prestige. For all my side-eyeing of MBA programs, I can’t help noticing that Ranke was writing at about the same time.) But aren’t public historians also professionals (and often educators)? What does it say that Durel phrases this as a one-way flow of ideas?