Museums: Myths, Memories and Meaning

A glittering blue gemstone the size of a walnut, the Hope Diamond is an object of beauty and a marvel of nature. But the real reason it’s in the Smithsonian Museum, said Professor of Anthropology Susan Kaplan, is the story of its supposed curse – a legend that probably arose as a marketing ploy.

Susan Kaplan mini-museum exhibits in Hubbard HallThis past semester Kaplan has been urging students to ponder why some objects slip into obscurity while others, like the Hope Diamond, become museum-worthy. “We are surrounded by stuff that has meaning to us,” Kaplan said. “Sometimes we convey that meaning to others, and these things become heirlooms or treasures.”

As part of her course Who Owns the Past? The Roles of Museums in Preserving and Presenting Culture, Kaplan – who also directs The Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum at Bowdoin – challenged her students to grapple with connections between object history, personal meaning, and society’s attachment to material artifacts. The fruits of their labor were displayed in two exhibits on the first and second floors of Hubbard Hall in early December.

Read the full story by Raleigh McElvery ’16 and see a slideshow of the exhibits.

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