Launch of MMSt50 and Lecture with Constance Classen

MMSt50 kicked off with a lecture from cultural historian Constance Classen, whose topic was “Collecting Our Senses: Seeing, Hearing and Touching in the Museum”.

While museums and art galleries are customarily thought of as places of visual engagement, historical and contemporary practices show that sensations of touch, of sound, of movement—even of scent and taste—all play a role in the collection experience. 

Classen's lecture fit well with the theme of MMSt's 50th anniversary year, which is risk taking. Assistant Professor Irina Mihalache, who organized many of the anniversary activities and researches museums and food, counts herself among Classen's many fans. "My students read her work on 'museum manners' and I find her work a fantastic tool to 'fight' theorizations of museums that focus on the visual only," she says.

Cara Krmpotich, Director of the Museum Studies Program, says Classen has shown that touch was an essential part of learning in early museum practice. "Based on this research, I've learned to change my own vocabulary, no longer speaking about 'damage' to objects and instead thinking about 'change.' I am an advocate for touch in the museum, and firmly believe its value outweighs any risks," says Krmpotich.

Classen's latest work is The Museum of the Senses: Experiencing Art and Collections(Bloomsbury 2017). She also gave a graduate seminar and a second lecture while at UofT.