The ‘World of Objects at Rest': Memories, Material Culture and the Museum is the inaugural lecture by Elizabeth Crooke, Professor of Heritage and Museum Studies, University of Ulster.
When Seamus Heaney described the dusty collection of objects he found as a child on the top of his kitchen dresser, he didn't think of them as ‘inert rubbish', instead they were ‘dormant energies, meanings that could not quite be deciphered' (Heaney 1993). On encountering the object that energy is transferred, ‘to touch and be touched by it' (Tilley 2008, 45). Building upon these perspectives, the millions of objects in our museums, on display and dormant in our museum stores, that ‘world of objects at rest' (Pablo Neruda), has the potential to invigorate. By reflecting on examples in our national, local and community museums, this lecture reveals the emotional power of objects. It considers the value of those collections as means to explore our pasts, our sense of identity, the myth of memory, and desire for belonging. As we plan for the future of museums, this lecture explores the ‘active museum' - one that can use its collections to engage and empower. This is a museum that works with us to decipher our pasts and forge a new energy of value and significance. It is this politics of recognition that makes a museum relevant to its community.