Co-Curation: Shared Stewardship of the Field Museum Collections

Historically, an individual curator was called upon to be the "keeper" and sole interpreter of a museum's collections. Today, we understand that we really share our objects with the community around us, the people who created the objects, and the descendants of those creators. Furthermore, objects alone cannot tell us everything we would like to know about a time, place, or people. 

The Pacific Anthropology team has been instrumental in implementing change to the way we care for our collections: through outreach, cultural heritage visits, community events and increasing online presence, we are slowly moving towards this new model of curation. We realize that the perspectives and knowledge of many people outside of the museum is vital to our understanding of the collections.

This type of collaborative curating is still gaining steam around the world; it is far from universally adopted. View one of our co-curation success stories by visiting the Field Museum's curation portal (currently covering over 10,000 objects from the Philippines.) We intend to add more of our collections over time.

"The concept of co-curation that we are pioneering here at the museum is based on two traditional New Zealand Maori ideas, or concepts:

  • taonga tuku iho (heritage treasures)

  • kai tiaki (stewardship)

While Chicago does not have a large resident Maori community, the museum cares for thousands upon thousands of heritage collections from places around the world that are today well represented here in the city by large and active communities. 

One such heritage collection comes from the Philippines. We are now working with Filipino-Americans in Chicago as well as others overseas in the Philippines to share more broadly responsibility (and financial support) for the care, use, interpretation, etc. of this wonderful collection. " 

Dr. John Terrell, January 2013

New in 2018

Researcher Sarah E. Carlson has completed a thesis about Philippine co-curation here at the Field. Read it in its entirety here.

Background image: Port Moresby by Hitchster. CC BY 2.0 / cropped and desaturated from original

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