I have been obsessed with dime museums lately. I am currently in the process of adapting my previous post on them, Dime Museums and the Exhibitionary Complex, into a full book chapter for an upcoming collection, and my mind has been racing with thoughts. Dime museums are fascinating institutions that lie at the intersections between the museum and the circus. This was the realm of the humbug, where any manner of lie would be told to an adoring public. Wax dummies next to fake taxidermy. At the very heart, where the glitz and glamour of show business crossed with the curatorial, was the freak show. It was from the dime museum’s stage where the cabinets of human curiosities could be seen.
It was popular. Really popular. It was through his dime museum that PT Barnum became a household name. They would peak in popularity between the 1880s and 1890s, suffering a slow decline until their fateful death in the interwar period. But their memory lingers, even to today. My previous post looked to apply museum theory in the form of Tony Bennett to discuss dime museums, and in researching the book chapter, I found myself thinking on another facet of museum studies; Jennifer Tyburczy’s Sex Museums and her declaration that all museums are sex museums.
When my previous exhibition, Transition Related Surgery: The Fight For Access, went from a physical exhibition to a digital one, I got interested in the ways that digital exhibitions are different. Scrolling through the resources that were available to me, namely JSTOR through the Toronto Public Library, I was let down to discover that very little had been written about them as a medium. A lot of what I found approached digital exhibitions with the same mentality, same rules, as in a physical building. This was not satisfying to me. I started forming some theories of my own which I would carry through into my exhibition. After I was hired by the Transgender Archives to develop a digital exhibition, I knew I wanted to take this line of questioning even further. So I sat down with John Summers, author of Creating Exhibits That Engage and adjunct professor at the University of Toronto.
Trying to bridge the gap between transgender studies and museum studies.