Dissociation – losing our mind(s)
or the importance of professional collection care
Preserving objects requires:
- seeing the objects as having value
- keeping the objects safe and secure
Human remains are almost universally seen as having value, certainly in a Western culture. So how is it possible that approximately 100 human brains were lost?
Or, as clarified in a press release (December 3, 2014), how could these samples have been deemed biological waste and disposed of after being kept in a basement for approximately 30 years? Why were they kept for so long in such an ignominious manner if they were considered to be “not suitable for research or teaching”?
Perhaps that “unsuitability” was the result of lack of care and years of neglect. It is not uncommon for large parts of university and museum collections to rest for many years or even decades without use before being rediscovered for valuable new purposes. The remaining brains in this collection are now serving as practice samples for undergraduate students learning MRI brain scanning.
Safeguarding collections through their periods of disuse is the critical role of professional collection care staff such as registrars, collection managers, and conservators. It is gratifying to read the University’s statement: “We are committed to treating the brain specimens with respect and are disheartened to learn that some of them may be unaccounted for.”
It would be more reassuring to read that the University has learned from this experience, and plans to place this and other important collections under the care of a properly supported professional collection care team.
Let us hope that the University of Texas will show itself to be a learning as well as a teaching institution by now making a real and public commitment to collection care.