The application of ethics in museums is something that has become more prominent in recent years. The AAM code of ethics was not implemented until 1991, a mere 24 years ago. Through the understanding and enlightenment of past museum events, the implementation of these standards was very much needed.
The book “Give Me My Father’s Body” told a story of an Eskimo community; this community was manipulated and separated for the sake of “science”. While learning and expanding our horizons is always important, and we should make an effort to understand other cultures, this was gone about in a very detached way. The Eskimos that were brought to New York City were treated as a display, not given proper quarters to stay, and were basically ignored when they needed medical attention. Their culture was viewed as inferior not only by American Museum of Natural History visitors, but also by the anthropologists that requested their presence. Empathy was lacking, and a true bond between the cultures was not able to be formed because of this.
I found the story of Minik to be emotional, and hurtful as a fellow human being. His father was all he felt he had left in the world, and he lost him in entirety because of neglect and an apparent refusal to treat Minik or his father’s body with the respect that is due to any human being. While it was disappointing to learn that practices such as this occurred in the past, it is refreshing to know that the need for a code of ethics was recognized and put into place. In speaking with Erin Richardson, a CGO alumna, she expressed how important ethics are in the field and how we always have further to go. She stated, “Museums are about people, and if we don’t treat people well then why are we here?”
My question is, are we addressing the issues of the past that suffered from not having this code of ethics? And is this code being updated often enough?