Jim Harris

‘But the Ashmolean is too big…’

Engaging with the Humanities

Overwhelming museums and why they are useful in spite of everything

How can a huge, encyclopaedic museum like the Ashmolean be made manageable, enjoyable and, most importantly, useful?

The sight of visitors wandering, slightly dazed, around huge, encyclopaedic museums is familiar to anyone who has ever been in one. The sheer volume of material on display, the quantity of information and the scale and variety of issues addressed makes for an experience that is aesthetically, intellectually and physically exhausting.

Teaching Curator Dr Jim Harris will consider the different ways an object or a collection can be interrogated, and how a vast and unwieldy gathering of stuff can be made to operate as a tool for imaginative approaches to academic inquiry.

This is not a talk about gimmicks or hilarious museum-hacks (though it may be mildly amusing and fairly gimmicky) but about thoughtful looking and how big museums can be made to work on the small scale: how a single object might be capable of unpacking a whole world.