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Collection and communities

What are community collections?

The central theme of this course is to consider communities and the collections they have created. What community and community collections will we discuss in this course?

What is a community?

The concept of community is highly complex. For example, try to write down what comes to mind when you hear the word ‘community’. Each of you may have different thoughts. Is it a biological community or a human community? Is it something given or something you participate in? The region, profession, religion, family, intellectual interests, economic, political, language, generation… A variety of communities can be considered.

There is a lot of discussion in various disciplines about what community means. In this course, we refer to Lave and Wenger, who proposed the concept of ‘communities of practice.’ Their discussion in Situated Learning: Legitimate Peripheral Participation considers a community to be ‘participation in an activity system about which participants share understandings concerning what they are doing and what that means in their lives and for their communities.’

Tomohisa Sato (1967- ), who practices and researches community archives in Japan (and later appears as a guest in this course), rephrased this as ‘a community is a group of people working on “something” in common’ (Sato et al. Let’s build a community archive!. 2018). We believe that such a broad framework will help us connect collections practices in different communities in different parts of the world.

What is community collection?

So, what are the characteristics of a community collection? Following the definition of a collection reviewed in the previous step, a community collection is a group of tangible and intangible objects collected by a community based on specific intentions and criteria.

Think of the collections of the communities you participate in. There may be a wide variety of objects in the collection.

While the museological definition of collections focuses on categorising collected objects and how they fit into a system, community collections may include objects that do not necessarily fit into a system and may also include peripheral or superfluous objects.

The collection contains more than just objects collected through conscious collecting activities. It also includes objects that have naturally accumulated in the course of the community’s activities, that is, a trace of the community’s activities.

They are similar in character to ‘fonds’ in archives. Archival fonds are defined as ‘the whole of the records, regardless of form or medium, organically created and/or accumulated and used by a particular person, family, or corporate body in the course of that creator’s activities and functions.’ (International Council of Archives, Principles of Access to Archives, 2013)

In archives, the emphasis is on the original context that connects objects to each other. As well as the meaning of each object, a group of objects retains additional meanings.

Viewed in this way, community collections can be understood as an intermediate form between the archival fonds and the museum collections.

Between the invisible and us

A community collection is a highly dynamic collection. It incorporates objects collected with intention and organic traces of the community’s activities. It encompasses the time and space in which the community operates/was operating.

The community collections, accumulated over a long time, preserve objects related to the community’s past – activities and people no longer in front of us. Historian Krzysztof Pomian (1934 – ) states that the objects that compose the collections ‘ play the role of intermediaries between their onlookers and the inhabitants of the world to which the former did not belong’ (Pomian, Krzysztof. 1991. Collectors and Curiosities. Polity.). In other words, collections intermediate between us and what is now invisible. Today, as society changes at an unprecedented rate, the values, culture, habits and education that have shaped your current activities may not necessarily continue in the real world. The collections accumulated in the community allow us to look back and identify our own context. Through collections, you can reconnect with the invisible activities and people from your past that helped shape you.

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Akichi in Collections Management: Perspectives from a Japanese University Museum

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