Contemporary Urban Collections

What should constitute a museum collection in the 22nd century? How can human material production be best displayed, interpreted, or understood? The Field Museum has embarked on Contemporary Urban Collections: Material Ethnography of City Life, a new initiative to answer these questions.

Today--and for the foreseeable future--the majority of the world's people live in urban regions. The Field Museum's anthropology collections contain the world's heritage, but there is a gap in the representation of urban life, particularly from the mid-20th century forward. Archaeological collections primarily focus on city-states, including Mesopotamia and the ancient Americas, and ethnological collections concentrate on art and objects of indigenous peoples of the late 19th or early 20th centuries. To bring The Field Museum's collection into the future, we are partnering with DePaul University's Department of Anthropology, and others, to collect and document anthropologically the material components of our present urban life.

This project falls into three phases:

Occasional Symposia. We will convene leading researchers on urban life and material culture for periodic discussions of the collection's thematic organization and content.

Development of a Field Seminar. Similar to the Newberry Library's Center for Renaissance Studies, this seminar will create a lasting partnership with area faculty to enhance course offerings focused on the relationship between people, place, and objects. Seminar participants will contribute to the establishment of the collection and its contextualization.

Building a New Collection. A new collection will be created that will include photographs, video, and material artifacts of various kinds. It will reflect contemporary urban life, the relationship between people and their environments, and the folk arts of city dwellers.