image: Old Geo in the kitchen of Old Geo’s Antiques, Saskatchewan, photo by Kirsty Robertson
Small and micro-museums (self-funded collections, accessible to the public, and often developed around the passionate interest of a single person) have long been the outliers of museum studies. Such museums, including in their number museums of witchcraft, hats, barbed wire, banjos, toilet seats, toys, cat figurines, ghosts, gophers, post-natural history, and virtually any other object or idea that the mind can conjure, have expanded rapidly in number since the 1980s. As their popularity grows, such establishments have much to tell us about the future of the study of, and indeed the role of, museums in contemporary society. And yet, they remain vastly understudied in academic literature (see Fiona Candlin, 2015 for the one major study).
I argue that even as micromuseums often mimic or imitate the display strategies of authoritative institutions, what really distinguishes many of them from their mainstream counterparts is their focus on what I call outsider histories, which might take the form of, for example, a more minutely detailed approach to the history of tea cups, hair, or barbed wire than is possible in mainstream survey institutions. The micromuseums of particular interest to this project are those that focus on the outsider histories of the paranormal, sorcery, genetic modification, parafiction, and natural histories of semi-real animals. I am calling these “Somewhat Natural Histories,” as the collections that are the focus of this study use rigorous research methods and mimic certain forms of museum display in order to present semi-fictional histories. My goal here is not to ascertain the scientific accuracy of, for example, a cryptozoological museum’s focus on sasquatches and lake monsters, but rather to ask what the popularity of such collections means to authoritative museums that are dependent on empirical research.
A blog and travelogue for this project can be found at http://www.micromuseum.net