Caring for the past, preparing for the future: Museums of virology, ornithology and anthropology as asian reservoirs (Frédéric Keck)

Abstract: If humans care for the past, it is because the future is uncertain. And yet most often, caring for the past leads humans to envision the future as if it was inscribed in the past. Now, the global threats mankind has become recently aware of – such as global epidemics or climate change – include phenomena whose probability cannot be entirely calculated. How does this new situation impact institutions traditionally devoted to observing and collecting the past?
This lecture focuses on the history and the current development of three types of museums, in the fields of virology, ornithology and anthropology. It argues that relations between humans, birds and viruses are central to the way we currently care for the past and prepare for the future.
As a Western invention, museums were linked to the nation-oriented development of European science, and organized collections around the evolutionist paradigm of “prevention”. It has now become a global device articulated to techniques of “preparedness”, anticipating possible extinction of both humans and non-humans. Reflection on this fundamental shift leads us to go beyond apparent oppositions between natural reserves and cultural museums, between global health and global art. It also helps us to reconsider the role of science and imagination in facing global challenges.





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