Museums and collections, epistemic convergence and higher education

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


This paper argues that creative use of material collections in higher education has the potential to significantly counteract the marginalisation (or residualisation) of the humanities in many national university sectors. Material collections have been at the core of knowledge-based organisations since antiquity but their cross-disciplinary utility was lost during the specialisation and epistemic fragmentation of the Enlightenment, particularly during the 19th century. It has been further obscured by the recent marketization of higher education and the focus on quantification that accompanies competitive neoliberal management strategies in the sector.

The historic connections between objects and knowledge are outlined, followed by brief notes on the epistemic value of the museum and collection methodology. It is argued that cross-disciplinarity is enabled by this methodology because the museum and collection construct is a culturally situated activity reflecting how knowledge enterprises, including science and technology, are cultural endeavours. Universities are complex human organisations and their structures primarily reflect current or recent past epistemic essentialism rather than anticipating the future. Most material collections in higher education originated to support specific disciplinary instruction. This limited application is retroactive and only reinforces existing specialisms.

Material collections in higher education therefore need to be lifted out of their disciplinary restrictions to undertake a merged epistemic role in supporting the tripartite mission of teaching, research and engagement. Individual examples of each of these that illustrate new forms of epistemic fluidity between science, technology and the humanities are given. But it is argued that to enable a focus on the major existential crises of our time, the power of the network needs invocation. UMAC (University Museums and Collections), an international committee of ICOM (International Council of Museums), encourages networked alliances across the globe and across different knowledge systems to facilitate this.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationHumanities and higher education
Subtitle of host publicationsynergies between science, technology and humanities
EditorsDavid Bueno, Josep Casanovas, Marina Garcés, Josep M. Vilalta
Place of PublicationBarcelona
PublisherGlobal University Network for Innovation
Number of pages7
ISBN (Electronic)9788409146758
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2019

Publication series

NameHigher Education In The World
PublisherGlobal University Network for Innovation


Dive into the research topics of 'Museums and collections, epistemic convergence and higher education'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this