Contemporary collecting

Monday, December 12, the students presented their contemporary heritage in the museum.

During the second lesson, I talked with the pupils about the different stories an object can tell. And how you can, when you present or exhibit an object, tell a story: with a written text, or a picture, or a video, or by placing a certain other object next to it. We talked about the different associations one can have with a simple iron cooking pot if there is no context, no reference whatsoever. Is it from Africa? Or is it an ancient pot from the middle ages? Does it remind you of a cauldron with magic potion, or a cannibal’s cooking pot, or is it, for you, just a home accessory?

If you don’t know the context, objects can tell many stories and you give the public total freedom to make them up.

Two girls presenting their waveboard.

Personal heritage

The next step was that the kids were asked to start thinking about which things they thought should be collected by the museum. They worked in duos.

Anything was possible: music, objects, video’s, places, landscapes, dances, pictures, recipes. They had to ‘collect’ something that, in their view, tells something about their own life, and apart from that, they had to think about whether this piece of future heritage might have value or meaning for other people, and why. And, of course, they had to make a plan for the presentation of their ‘object’.

Quite some kids found it hard to think of something. They somehow did not have the feeling there was anything memorable about their lives: two boys told me they go to school and participate in sport: what’s interesting about that for anyone, except for themselves? Someone else thought Snapchat was worth ‘collecting’, but: how do you that? 


On the day of the presentation, the kids were welcomed by the curator and the director of the museum. The teacher told me afterwards that the fact that it was all ‘for real’ had made some of the kids quite nervous; but also, that this made the project all the more interesting, for the kids as well as for herself.

What did the students want the museum to collect? Interestingly enough, there was quite some ‘nostalgia’ involved. Kids presented things they had fond memories of, things from their own ‘youth’: a video of the Gangnam Style song (from 2012), the Nintendo DS-lite (a small, handheld game console), Tamagotchi, Pepe the frog. There were no real personal objects, although some of the kids told personal stories with their objects, like how they always used to dance the Gangnam Style dance; one girl told that her father had given her a Tamagotchi and because he was away so often, caring for her ‘pet’ connected her to her dad.

Only one duo brought a real object: a waveboard. One boy said he thought the museum should collect the dunes, because they protect us all from flooding.

Black Pete.JPG
'Put Black Pete on display in the museum'

One duo came up with the thought-provoking idea to collect Black Pete. They said that Black Pete was going to disappear – and they took this for a fact. But as they had such good memories of him, he should be conserved in the museum. Next to him the museum should put a newspaper clipping of the ‘Black-Pete-discussion’, in order to make clear why this figure is gone.

The museum as a storehouse for our memories, while at the same time showing what is, in the present, ‘wrong’ with a tradition that once was considered perfectly fine. A wonderful example of the fact that heritage is not a static relic from the past, but a dynamic phenomenon that we use to serve present needs.


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