In the editorial to the first issue of reCollections, published in March 2006, we asked the question: 'Who needs a new journal of museums and collections?' Now, several years and eight issues on, we trust that the success of the journal provides much of the answer. reCollections attracts a growing number of contributors and readers, and continues to adhere to the highest publishing standards. As well as strengthening the research emphasis of the National Museum of Australia, it encourages discussion of issues relevant to museum researchers and professionals in Australia and other parts of the museum world.
So far the journal has published 25 peer-reviewed articles. These have ranged broadly across the fields of museology and museum practice, and material history. Subjects have included historical studies of collections and exhibitions, museums as contested sites, Indigenous art, education in museums, digital history, and much more. This range has been extended by 10 papers in the category of 'Notes and comments' and nearly 70 reviews of books and exhibitions.
Despite this breadth of subject matter, the editorial board recognises that many questions about museums and collections remain unanswered, and often unasked. The board decided to put itself to the test. Each of its nine members, all of them museum professionals or researchers with expertise in the field, jotted down several questions or themes that would repay investigation. We present them now in distilled format, hoping that they will encourage researchers to pursue some of the topics, or come up with their own lists of jobs that need to be done. The questions cover a wide range of museum activities. Most reflect contemporary concerns. Some relate specifically to Australia. Others raise questions that are likely to be of interest to museums and museum workers wherever they might be.
- How have exhibitions been influenced by political considerations over the past 20 to 30 years? We know that museums are often referred to as contested sites, and that certain exhibitions have raised a furore. But are exhibitions inherently political? What do museum archives tell us?
- As the role of museums has changed, has their governance changed? There is a dearth of studies on the history of governance of cultural institutions such as museums.
- Should well-researched exhibitions become part of the scholarly narrative? If so, how? Do websites or catalogues provide a satisfactory record of exhibitions and the scholarship that lies behind them? Or are museum exhibitions a form of cultural ephemera?
- How do curators relate to and work with designers? How do creative structures in museums compare with other 'creative industries', especially film?
- It sometimes seems that museums now have more in common with theatre companies than with archives. Do museums rely too heavily on exhibitions to fulfil their cultural or scientific mission?
- How effective have focus groups been in predicting the success of exhibitions? What focus group strategies work best?
- What is the future of online collections? How can such collections be put to better use inside and outside museums?
- How do various museums undertake 'contemporary collecting'? Have certain contemporary collecting projects in the past been notably more successful than others? Given that almost any collection will accrue new value over time, can we predict what collections are worth investing in?
- How has the role of the curator changed in recent decades? Have exhibitions, collections management and public programs taken precedence over curatorial expertise? What are the consequences for the depth and originality of exhibitions when the role of curators shifts from 'content expert' to 'content manager'?
- Do teachers of museum studies, in different parts of the world, adequately serve 'the industry'? Is there an ideal relationship between museum professionals and museum academics?
- What is the 'museum history' of specific objects and collections, some of which have helped shape the identities of the museums they inhabit?
- How have Australian Indigenous collections been interpreted and displayed in museums outside Australia? How are Asia–Pacific museums dealing with similar issues of national and regional identity and indigeneity?
- How are ideas relating to museology communicated around the world, especially to developing countries?
- Is museum and exhibition design becoming globalised? Do exhibitions in certain countries or regions have clearly identifiable elements of design? Is there anything 'national' about Australian design?
These last questions reflect our aim, stated in the editorial to the first issue, to publish 'articles that invite international comparisons and transcend regional concerns'. We are also keen to include more articles, notes, comments and reviews relating to museums and collections in the Asia–Pacific region. Papers on museums in South and East Asia are scheduled for publication in 2010.
As previously, though, we stress that reCollections has a broad remit. It is your journal, and we are keen to hear your views about issues that it should endeavour to cover and areas where work needs to be done.
email: recollections @ nma.gov.au