I recently came across a TED talk that combines my inner science nerd with my history nerd. I have long been a follower of the exciting work taking place at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN in Geneva, Switzerland, but never had it crossed my mind that experiments there could be related to my history world.
The Super Collider takes something really big to discover something tiny. The Collider is a 27-kilometer ring buried deep beneath the earth’s surface. Inside the ring, particles are thrown around the ring in opposite directions. As the particles approach the speed of light, they are smashed into each other, a massive wreck on a microscopic scale. In this crash what is important is what is thrown off during the collision as the particles disintegrate. Often the particles fly apart without anything much happening, but sometimes you make a discovery like the Higgs boson, a fundamental building block of our universe.
In her TED talk Julia Marciari-Alexander from the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore compares her 1979 visit to St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome to the super collider. When she stepped into St. Peter’s she collided with history, art, and objects, and what was thrown off from that collision was a sense of wonder and a personal discovery that places and objects could speak if only you listened. You can see her entire TED talk here:
Our sites are places where the past and present collide in a safe environment. Sometimes in this collision the best we can hope for is that the visitor spends a pleasant day and leaves with fond memories of their experience, but you may never know when someone collides with the past in such a way that it changes their life the way St. Peter’s changed Ms. Alexander’s. That one visit with her family set her on a new path with a mission to help visitors to the Walters understand what objects are trying to say.
Your thoughts are welcome.
ALHFAM board member Kathy Dickson is the director of Museums and Historic Sites for the Oklahoma Historical Society. She stumbled into the museum field over 30 years ago and never left.