Article by recent MSP visiting scholar, Samuel J. Redman

Samuel J. Redman from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, was MSP’s visiting scholar in March 2019.  Here is an interesting article that he wrote for “The Museum Review.”  The abstract is below, and the full article can be found here.


“Impossible appraisals: art, anthropology, and the limits of evaluating museum collections in the mid-twentieth century United States”

In 1958, art historian Creighton Gilbert proposed an audacious system to rank art museums in the United States. The system compared museum collections during an era in which relativism was becoming a dominant force in the social sciences, eschewing the direct comparison or ranking of differing cultural production. This article explores how and why such a system for ranking museums failed. At the same time, however, museum professionals nevertheless maintained their own, internal and less formalized systems for comparing museum collections. In California and beyond, museum professionals used pragmatic assessments to determine the value of museum collections when touring other institutions and orchestrating collections exchanges. In both art and anthropology museums, informal modes of assessing museum quality were maintained while public efforts to rank museums largely failed.