Flashes of Burning Questions

Pilla – Conversations on Museum Theory

It is perhaps curious that while museums are more than 100 years old, museology as a scholarly discipline has a history of barely two decades. Perhaps the most obvious reason is that the difference in qualifications and background of the collections’ keepers and the multiplicity of collections didn’t make it perceptible that numerous strands come together in museums. The different types of museums fail to notice their similarity and confine themselves to research in their narrowly defined specialities. This has resulted not only in the weak professional museological identity of museum staff, but at the same time in the course of museum work the practical experience accumulated in one speciality and the general thinking have only slightly touched on the profession as a whole. It is still characteristic at museum conferences for people to separate into their different specialities. The ethnographer doesn’t exchange thoughts very much with an archaeologist, nor the art historian with a medical historian, a technology specialist with a literature specialist, and so on. Many people in principle doubt that there can be anything considered common in art, historical, archaeological, natural historical and technical historical museology, though it is recognised that there is an inventory and storeroom, restoration and exhibitions practically everywhere – and ideally, of course, there are visitors. This minor phenomenon, the visitor, more precisely the intention of reaching out to the visitor has dislodged museology out of its divisions. This has initiated the strengthening of the museum professional identity. Meanwhile, however, the staging of exhibitions has continued to quietly take it for granted that, due to the completely different matters to be presented, we work with incomparable means, and thus mutually beneficial experience does not exist. Thinking about such matters in Hungary didn’t begin with the Pilla series of presentations. Similar aims have been involved with the Pulszky Association, Museum May Days and Museum Nights, magyarmuzeumok.hu and MúzeumCafé, just as the specialised departments in different ministries have done much in recent decades in the interest of a common museum identity and the promotion of museums’ interrelatedness. In this connection, the Pilla series has been based on one simple, though consistently applied approach – the aim has been to create a professional forum where museologists from different backgrounds can conveniently exchange ideas about exhibitions and museum work, in brief about their own occupation. Of course, other considerations have been involved with the selection of speakers. Every year the organisers have invited those they consider to be the most distinguished. These were the considerations on the basis of which in autumn 2012 the Semmelweis Museum of Medical History initiated the series about museum theory.