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Is research and teaching a key for preserving university collections and museums?

Author(s): Sébastien Soubiran

Journal: University Museums and Collections Journal
ISSN 2071-7229

Volume: 3;
Start page: 21;
Date: 2010;
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Keywords: University of Strasbourg | Collections and museums | Scientific heritage

It is now well known that one of the main challenges for university collections is the recognition of the usefulness of their heritage value within the institution. As long as university collections are used for research and teaching the danger of their “disappearance” is less acute. However, how to maintain this link when scientific activity is characterized by a strong turn over regarding subject of interest, practices, teaching and research tools? When internet and communication technologies open a new era based on the immaterial and the virtual? I would present in my paper an overview of the various answers that have been put in place within the University of Strasbourg to maintain or give new value for teaching or research activities to our collections in different fields like Egyptology, ethnology, physics, zoology, botany, palaeontology, anatomy or history of science. A particular attention would also be put on the compatibility of research and teaching missions with, on the one hand, the long term preservation of the collections and, on the other hand, the accessibility to general public. In other words, to what extend is it possible to reconcile research and teaching activities with university heritage preservation? The role of collections and museums as ‘tools/resources/elements’ for teaching and research is of major interest for several reasons. Firstly because university collections and museums are primary knowledge artifacts. Secondly because research and teaching have been the main activities of universities since at least the late 19th century. Thirdly, because this genuine link makes university collections and museum on the one hand precious and unique and on the other hand fragile, vulnerable and short-lived compared to cultural collections and other museum institutions. And last but not least, because most of the people in charge of university collections are academics or are managed by academics. In my paper I would like to address various questions: is the preservation of collections for the purposes of research and teaching an issue to be discussed or simply a matter of fact? Are teaching and research the only justifications for maintaining scientific collections? Do we only preserve them through constant use as teaching or research tools? Based on various examples in my own university, my viewpoint is obviously not only framed by many national specificities but also by the fact that a majority of our collections are collections related to ‘hard’ science. The University of Strasbourg does not have art collections.
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