Welcome to this first issue of reCollections: Journal of the National Museum of Australia.
Who needs a new journal of museums and collections? This is a fair question, best answered in the journal's primary aim: to provide a rapid means of publishing research in (and on) museums and collections, and thereby stimulate awareness and encourage discussion of issues across the field. The field is defined broadly to encompass two main areas:
- museology and museum practice, and
- material history, the history and interpretation of objects, and the social and environmental history of material culture.
The editors intend that reCollections will emphasise Australian contributions and content, extending to the Asia-Pacific region, an area of growing interest for students of museums. As issues relating to museums and collections often ignore national boundaries, the journal will also publish articles that invite international comparisons and transcend regional concerns.
A second objective relates directly to the role and responsibilities of the National Museum of Australia. After two decades of reflection and planning, at varying degrees of intensity, the Museum opened to the public in March 2001. In the few years before and after opening, research (always considered one of the proper functions of museums) gave way to the immediate and unrelenting demands of building the institution, creating exhibitions, and devising and implementing new programs. Now, five years after opening, its public profile well-established, the Museum is reasserting its role as a research institution with national responsibilities, keen to encourage research within its own walls and across the Australian collections sector.
As in other parts of the world, much of the research and writing about museums is conducted not in the museums themselves but in universities and colleges. Writing about museums sometimes betrays a gulf between academics in the field of museum studies and museum professionals. While it is often said that the best practice is informed by a solid grounding in theory, theoretical writing in disciplines relating to museums is sometimes so arcane and far removed from practice that museum professionals, their minds concentrated on the next exhibition or performance, simply ignore it.
In response to this challenge, the editors encourage contributions by both theoreticians and practitioners, and exchanges between the two. Good, plain English writing will enhance such conversations. Here, the National Museum's links with the Australian National University are apposite. The Museum and the University co-sponsor graduate courses in museums and collections which give equal emphasis to theory and practice. And if the journal, like the program, can strengthen the links between the two, the effort will have been worthwhile. We will use the refereeing process standard to academic journals to ensure that contributions offered are both informed of the scholarly literature and engaged with current museum practice.
We intend the journal to be both a repository of information and a forum for debate. Some articles will explore and report on specific museums, objects or collections. In keeping with the National Museum's strengths in areas relating to Aboriginal Australia, reCollections hopes to feature in future issues articles on Indigenous collections and exhibitions, in Australia and elsewhere. Other articles will consider museological issues, such as the national or local responsibilities of collecting institutions, the ownership, preservation and repatriation of collections, the management and governance of cultural institutions, the characteristics of exhibitions and programs, ways of assessing visitor responses and meeting their expectations, and so the list could go on. The journal looks to publish articles of historical interest and immediate relevance, investigating, for example, the application of emerging technologies in museum displays, or the impact of a global museum culture on national and regional institutions. Book reviews, exhibition reviews and review articles will provide timely reports on contemporary developments.
We intend the content of reCollections to embrace all museums, as defined by ICOM and Museums Australia, including museums of history, natural history, ethnography and art; and all the collections, artefacts and objects, however defined, that specific museums contain. Museums are not the only institutions to house 'museum objects': as Margaret Birtley points out in her report in this issue on the new Collections Council of Australia, the collections sector embraces archives, galleries, libraries and museums, each with 'unique issues but a commonality of needs'. reCollections, while maintaining a 'museum perspective', welcomes contributions relating to all four domains that make up the sector.
Online publication offers many opportunities for supporting text with illustrations, video, sound and links to related websites. We hope contributors to future issues will think imaginatively about this potential and exploit the medium to strengthen their presentations. The electronic format also allows for prompt publication: articles will usually be made available soon after completion of the peer review process, rather than waiting for publication of the complete issue.
While most readers of reCollections are likely to be museum professionals, many articles and reviews should appeal to a wider readership. Where appropriate, these might be reproduced in other formats, in hard copy or online.
Museums are remarkable for their adaptability, their capacity to change to meet the demands of society and the expectations of successive generations of visitors. So too, with successive issues, we expect reCollections to change to reflect the needs and expectations of a vibrant profession.
So enjoy the first issue, and think about contributing to a coming one.