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Do Museums Still Need Objects? (The Arts and Intellectual Life in Modern America) Paperback – December 31, 2010

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Product Details

  • Series: The Arts and Intellectual Life in Modern America
  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: University of Pennsylvania Press (December 31, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0812221559
  • ISBN-13: 978-0812221558
  • Product Dimensions: 8.9 x 6 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #653,353 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


"Conn's well-written essays centralize objects as the defining feature of museums as they shifted (albeit incompletely) from being places of public instruction to being places of private consumption, from taxonomic exhibits to narrative ones, influenced by the development of the academic disciplines of science, anthropology, and art history. . . . An interesting and significant contribution to the literatures of museum studies and public history."—American Historical Review

"Steven Conn provides an eclectic, provocative, and extremely readable tour of the history of museums in the twentieth-century United States. . . . The easy erudition and wit of Do Museums Still Need Objects? Will appeal to lay readers and museum practitioners, and its hardheaded historical approach and bold opinions will raise debate among scholars in the field of museum studies and cultural history."—Journal of American History

"Steven Conn offers a refreshing look at museums and many of the debates surrounding their development and practices over the past forty years. He is right to frame his inquiry by asking if museums still need objects. Too often these debates have ignored the very characteristic that defines museums and distinguishes them from all other cultural institutions: they collect, preserve, and present things. This is an important, timely book."—James Cuno, President and Director, Art Institute of Chicago

"In this provocative and engaging book, Steven Conn considers the continuing role museums play in contemporary American society. Despite recent shifts in their priorities, Conn argues that museums and their collections possess tremendous potential as sites of learning and places where civic identity is shaped and sustained. Do Museums Still Need Objects? is a must-read for anyone thinking about the social and cultural significance of museums at the beginning of the twenty-first century."—Raymond Silverman, University of Michigan

About the Author

Steven Conn is the author of Metropolitan Philadelphia: Living with the Presence of the Past, also available from the University of Pennsylvania Press.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Fidel Soto on May 11, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I was a bit disappointed by this book. In my perspective the title was not appropriate. I was looking for a book to discuss more intimately the meaning of objects in a more and more digitized world. Instead it gives more a resume of the museum and its history. Very interesting in general how museums came about and how some objects where used. A great book for historians.

Fidel Soto, Norway

BA(Hons)product design, MA in material culture and didacticism
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book may be the most valuable reading in the field of museum studies that I have completed. Conn references the other scholars I have read, and it is true that this reading might not have been as useful to me without knowledge of the scholarship he builds on. However, Conn brought the disparate theories together for me into a cohesive dialect on the status and nature of museums.
Conn sees a disconnect within museum studies, between the historic boom in museums and the downcast tone of those who write about museums. He finds fault the lack of distinction between culture and politics within the museum power paradigm, and discerns a need to remember the intellectual component of museums (as opposed to amusement). With attention to how architecture influences museum experiences, as well as an interest in how objects function in different museological contexts, concern for the rigidity of set disciplinary boundaries. Lastly, Conn examines the increased absence of objects (including reparation to cultures of origins), and the opposite problem of permanency and stagnation. Conn sees the substitution of museums and culture for politics, as well as the "business of culture" - using museums (and similar institutions) as an economic replacement for manufacturing, and the dilemmas of nostalgia and the need to forget, as the perils of the "museum age."
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