I studied abroad in Melbourne, Australia, during the spring of 2007. I loved it wholly and enthusiastically, but the experience took a lot out of me too. I was constantly moving and exploring, and I felt this mild yet inexorable panic that if I didn’t try to cram as much into the experience as possible I’d arrive home laden with regrets. Trying to fit a lifetime’s worth of experiences into one semester is difficult and exhausting. That sort of energy level is hard to maintain and by the end of my five months there I was ready to go.
The thing about Australia, though, is that it isn’t known for its museums. Don’t get me wrong – the island continent has a lot to offer, museum-wise. But when I was traveling around with my fellow study-abroaders trying to get a sense of what we absolutely couldn’t miss, there was never a helpful Australian citizen or Lonely Planet book saying, “oh, you can’t leave without making it to the Australian National Maritime Museum,” or something similar. So we did all the “important” things, like going to Manly Beach or doing a tour of Victoria’s wine country, seeing the Sydney Harbor Bridge and visiting the Opera House, and somewhere along the way I missed a bunch of museums.
Which is why I’m all the more thankful that I took a course called “Museums, Objects, Spectacles,” while I was at Melbourne University. By far the most difficult class I took, “Museums, Objects, Spectacles” was about the history and philosophy of museum exhibition; the Whens, Whys, and Hows of exhibiting, if you will. Besides giving me a crash course in museum history, the class also got me out and about visiting Melbourne’s museums. Arguably the cultural capital of Australia (Melbourne sees itself as the New York to Sydney’s LA), Melbourne has an awful lot of quality museums. I spent the most amount of time at the Melbourne Museum, where I reviewed an exhibit called “Melbourne: Stories of the City.” Looking at the Melbourne Museum website now I can’t tell if the exhibit was permanent or not, but their current permanent city exhibit called “The Melbourne Story” is likely very similar to the galleries I saw in 2007.
I thought I’d kick off The Museumist with a walk down memory lane and revisit the first museum exhibit review I’ve ever done. The review I wrote for “Museums, Objects, Spectacles” was long, academically-minded and, in retrospect, not quite as earth-shattering as I remember it being, but I’m going to try to distill it down to the pertinent points. So if you’re interested in a short analysis of an Australian history exhibit from the perspective of a non-Australian, click for more. Continue reading