This article in the Wall Street Journal, by Melik Kaylan insightfully discusses ever-changing perspectives of museums and the stories they tell about vast collections of objects.
Dura-Europos: Crossroads of Antiquity, a exhibit currently running at McMullen Museum, inspires a discussion of museum theory using and exhibiting cultural material to explore history and society. Here is the concluding sentence.
“Though it features, among other things, the best example of a Roman armor-suit ever found, this is not a show about rare objects of great value. Rather, it illustrates moments of consciousness in history, including the moment of the excavations to illustrate how the world then chose to digest its own ancient history. Between the World Wars, the revelations of Dura-Europos were valued largely as contributions to the history of art, illuminating the bridge between Classical and Renaissance aesthetics. The show’s present-day curators invite us to consider how their preoccupations (and ours) have changed. They focus on the successful cross-pollination of cultures at Dura-Europos, how Greek, Jewish, Parthian, Roman and Christian cultures synthesized and abided in harmony. A Sassanian helmet with a nose guard demonstrates how Romans learned from other cultures: They added a nose guard to their own helmets. The Palmyran temple frieze shows how a Roman general worshiped with local pagans. The curators prod us to view the ancients through our contemporary concerns: in a word, multiculturalism or diversity. In the study of archaeology, they seem to say, we see what we look for. It never goes out of fashion.”