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Collecting for the Academy: University Museums and the Production of Knowledge

Kerstin Barndt

photo by Richard Barnes photo by Richard Barnes
The University of Michigan boasts 20 distinct museums and collections, which contain over twenty-five million zoological specimens, herbarium sheets, ethnographical artifacts, and artworks from around the globe. Despite this staggering wealth of objects, to date there have been few attempts to understand their place in the history of the University and its scientific and disciplinary culture. In this talk, Kerstin Barndt shares new findings about the genesis of the collections in Michigan’s nineteenth century geological surveys and global collection expeditions, and about the role of the U-M museums in Michigan’s state formation.

Drawing comparisons with paradigmatic university museums in the US and in Europe, she concentrates on the life cycle of particular collections and highlights their important role in the disciplinary and historical self-understanding of the university. With some of these collections having subsequently lost this function and now considered missing, Barndt’s work performs a crucial work of historical recovery that shows how academic museums and their displays delineated and contested the distinctions between nature and culture, science and religion. Illustrated with copious examples from the riches of U-M’s collections, this talk outlines the many, complex, and hybrid dimensions of university museums as institutions of research, teaching and public display.

Barndt's research is currently featured in the exhibition "Object Lessons:
Recollecting Museum Histories at Michigan" on view at the U-M Museum of Natural History through December 30, as well as the book, with Carla Sinopoli, "Object Lessons and the Formation of Knowledge: The University of Michigan Museums, Libraries, and Collections 1817–2017 ."

Kerstin Barndt is associate professor of Germanic languages and literatures and a 2013-14 Helmut F. Stern fellow at the Institute for the humanities.
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When and Where

Map 202 S. Thayer - Institute for the Humanities Common Room

November 2017

12:30pm - 2:00pm

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