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6 Curators and museums

The word curator comes from the Latin curatus, meaning taken care of. And that is what curators do: take care of the objects in museums. When I was a ROM curator I looked after the fossil vertebrates—animals with backbones—with particular attention to ichthyosaurs.

This required everything from collecting specimens in the field and studying them when cleared of rock, to writing up research results in scientific journals. I also had to ensure that the specimens were safely and accessibly stored, and documented in a catalogue. All of this required considerable help.

Fieldwork involved our lab technicians, along with occasional volunteers, usually students. Uncovering fossils from the rock—described as preparation—occupied most of our technicians’ time. They also looked after specimen storage. Cataloguing was the responsibility of our curatorial assistant.

Museums like the ROM are all about objects—objects from around the world throughout time. They range in age from the remote geological past, before life began, through the palaeontological periods of ancient animals and plants, now mostly extinct, and on through historical times to the present.

Museums are the secure vaults for irreplaceable treasures—to be kept safe, to be studied and understood, and to be seen and marveled by the visitors passing through the galleries.

All of this is what sets museums apart from art galleries and art museums. Visitors to art establishment see paintings of people, places and life, from historical times to the present, along with other art forms such as sculptures. Here the fulfilment is in seeing, and includes little if anything about discovering something intriguing, exciting, or new.


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