Council of Australian University Museums and Collections
2018 CAUMAC – ANU Symposium
Reframing university collections – research infrastructure
In 1755 Oxford University, on the order of university authorities, burnt the natural history collections of the Ashmolean Museum, including the stuffed extinct giant flightless pigeon of Mauritius known as the Dodo. This is one form of management response to the question of legacy collections in higher education. But at the time Oxford University’s leadership could not have possibly anticipated the Linnaean and Darwinian revolutions in understanding the natural world that would require large natural history collections to underpin research progress.
Many of the collections held by the Australian National University (ANU) are a legacy of the University’s past. ANU was initially research-focussed, with an emphasis on the Asia-Pacific region, medical research, and both physical and social sciences. Hundreds of thousands of items were collected by researchers from across the region and brought to Canberra – these collections were essential to the research process. Studying Chinese history would have been impossible without a library of Chinese-language books. A xylarium (or wood library) was the only way of investigating the taxonomy of native trees. Rocks and fossils had to be brought back to the laboratories in Canberra for close analysis. But when these research projects ended, or the discipline of study shifted focus, many of the collections lay dormant for decades. While their significance and value may be acknowledged, how can universities that were not mandated by enabling legislation to be collecting institutions, justify the ongoing resources required to manage a legacy collection?
The ANU is moving to reframe collections as research infrastructure – to consider the maintenance of a collection in the same light as a telescope or a supercomputer. The upfront capital required to make these collections more visible and accessible would be seen as an investment that might encourage new research outcomes – particularly across disciplines. This is not a new idea: Mark Meadow noted in 2009 that University collections often move in and out of research value depending on changes in technology and disciplines (Relocation and Revaluation in university collections, or, Rubbish Theory revisited, UMAC Conference, Berkeley 2009).
But we’re curious, how has this worked in Australian universities? Future research potential and possibility has never been a focus of any studies on higher education in Australia.
This one-day symposium organised as a collaboration between CAUMAC and ANU therefore asks the following questions:-
- How have Australian universities dealt with the issue of legacy collections?
- What are the advantages and pitfalls of valuing legacy collections based on their potential for new research?
- How do you manage a collection to be ready for research that might currently be unforeseeable
- What does this mean for collections whose research potential is unknown?
Confirmed speakers and topics include:-
Roxanne Missingham ANU & Ingrid Mason AARNET: – From Cinderella to collaborative research infrastructure: reinventing GLAM
Alistair Kwan, the University of Auckland: – Beyond Winterthur
Veronica Bullock, Significance International: – The University Collection as pathway to inter-disciplinarity
Jude Philp, University of Sydney:- New Order
Jane Thogersen, Yann Tristant, Michael Rampe, Macquarie University: – Utilising 3D Technologies to increase university collection discoverability
Plus – plenty of other stories about material collections in higher education that you simply won’t hear anywhere else!
Register now! It’s free!
We welcome any expressions of interest from university curators, researchers, professional staff or students who would like to contribute to this symposium but be quick!
Expressions of Interest close on March 23!
To participate in this symposium, please use the attached template to send us your outline (around 200 words) of what you’d like to present to
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