I am idealistic. I like to think of the world as a good place, with good people, doing good things. And to some extent that is true, there is good in the world. But, in the real world, the world that is not my idealistic creation, this is not the case. Because of this people have created spaces to make good things happen. Museums are one of those good spaces; they are a space of public service. They should service their community, their visitors, and those who they collect from. After reading Give Me My Father’s Body and learning about the unethical behavior of the American Museum of Natural History it caused me to think about the current ethics in this field of public service.
I spoke with John Carnahan about museum ethics and the unethical behavior that can occur. What became clear during our conversation is that museums behave unethically in many different ways. Museums get their objects from graves, they obtain object with unknown provenance, and then there are the unethical finical shenanigans that goes on as well. Mr. Carnahan spoke about a museum that is currently using its endowment to pay operating costs and a museum employee that was selling museum objects to himself, to the determent of the museum connection. Museums can also behave unethically when vying for the same objects.
After talking with Mr. Carnahan about the many different ways that museums and museum employees behave unethically I am concerned about the field. If museums are supposed to be for the good of the public museums cannot weaken themselves by destroying the endowment, by acquiring objects illegally, or by selling off objects unnecessarily. This is unacceptable behavior and it is time for it to stop.