Over the course of time, the meaning of collections and museums, of archives and libraries has changed. Written archives existed as early as antiquity, the same is probably true for the collection of art objects, scientific collections and museums had their rise only in the early 18th century, however, then they did play an increasingly important role for the education of broad levels of the population.
Today, the "electronic revolution" is quickly starting to replace what used to be the most important medium for over 1000 years, the book, as a knowledge carrier. Modern museums of natural history unite computer animation, plastic models and audio-visual installations. Here, an exhibit becomes a symbolic representation of the object which itself is an object of research, but not research itself.
Starting from the current knowledge of this shift in meaning and of what these institutions achieve in today's age, the research group (whose complete name was "RG Archives, Museums, Collections ¬– Shifts in Meaning and Future Prospects") wanted to investigate the following questions:
- How can knowledge, art objects and specimens be preserved in the age of electronic mass media?
- How should the respective institutions be integrated into a general science concept of the future, especially if the means of archiving are potentially changing drastically?
- Our concepts of knowledge and learning have changed. Knowledge today is much less factual knowledge, less of a manageable "treasure", but more a dynamic process which is potentially interminable. What does that mean for archives, collections and museums, for their didactics and the necessity of a "stockpiling" of potentially instructive objects?
At their first meeting in the spring of 2003 the research group agreed on three key questions:
- Boundaries of collecting – where do they lie?
- Economies of collecting – comparable across all disciplines?
- Innovations of collecting – how does something new originate?
A survey among collectors and users concerning these questions pointed to a comprehensive and complex topic which promised exciting answers while at the same time overstretching the achievable workload of the research group. To avoid naive answers, the research group abandoned the continuation of the project.