"Thoughts in things": Modernity, history, and North American museums

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Late nineteenth-century public museums in the United States were intentionally built to be modern, guided by administrators like George Brown Goode toward scientific goals that included preservation, research, and education. Self-consciously preoccupied with the management of museums, intent on attaining mastery over the objects that constituted their museums, and persuaded that meaning derived not just from the objects themselves but from their explanation and configuration by experts, museum masters led a "new museum" movement. A century later, the critiques of postmodern scholars attest to the museum directors' effective establishment of a modern profile. Historians of science, who once could take these institutions for granted as a lightly marked center of authority, now may use methods of social and cultural studies to open their institutional and intellectual frames. While cautious about theory-driven arguments, such scholars benefit from the issues raised by cultural critics even as they rely on their own documentary methods to ensure that science is an integral component when examining ideas, language, and practice in context.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)586-601
Number of pages16
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 2005


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