I’m not a book club sort of person. When a title called “Letting Go? Sharing Historical Authority in a User-Generated World” was brought to my attention at work, it was briefly described with questions like “Can everyone be a historian? Can everyone be a curator?” Got my attention.
Words mean things. Can simply anyone do these things? Not without proper training and experience. Yet the book seemed to imply that “expertise” and “experience” are things of the past and anyone can call themselves anything and do anything, just like that.
Stand in a garage and call yourself a Porsche…it doesn’t make it so!
Trying to read the first part of the book, and seeing how the writers and contributors appeared to be wanton iconoclasts bent on randomly redefining well-established terms like “historian” and “curator” to suit their own fancies while implying that any 4th grader with a smart phone can become an instant “curator” was instantly aggravating. A well-meaning high schooler can’t tell you how to conserve century-old textiles. A wannabe 5th grader might “curate” his own bubble gum well enough but won’t have a clue how to triage flood-damaged parchment or determine proper lighting levels for a tintype photograph. The woman down the street may fancy herself a “historian” but not have a clue about primary source materials or principles of effective interpretation.
“Curator?” “Historian?” “Expert?” BAH!
Three pages into the book and I actually had a headache.
More reading and I understood better what most of these folks were trying to say. And much of it is very good: we have changing audiences, with changing expectations of museums (and come to think of it, changing expectations of everything). We need new or adapted techniques for engaging these audiences.
Problem is, words mean things. “Curator” or “historian” are professional positions with very specific skill sets that, I’m sorry, not simply anyone can do. Same for a physician, or a dentist, or a chemist, or even a taxi driver. (Trust me, I’m an excellent driver, but you don’t want me trying to shuttle you around NYC.)
Can most anyone be prevailed upon to share their stories, contribute their experiences to a research project that will fuel a museum display, tag/label/explain photos? Absolutely, and in many ways keeping in touch with our history contributes to our being human.
I do not concur with iconoclasm for its own sake.
“Everyone can be a curator?” Really?
Where did I put the Advil?