Date of Award

Spring 5-2019

Degree Type


Degree Name

MA Museum Professions


Communication and the Arts


Charlotte Nichols, Ph.D.


Collecting, Contemporary Collecting, Rapid Response Collecting, Museums, Community Engagement, Objects


The collection of contemporary materials has become more common in the museum field since the 1980s. Many institutions in the 21st century acquire contemporary material culture of all kinds, including t-shirts, posters, computers, sports equipment, photographs and other ephemera. Much finds its way into collections through the traditional means of donation and purchase. Museum professionals also engage in fieldwork of sorts, attending events such as rallies, protests, marches, sporting events, the aftermath of natural disasters and other tragedies in order to gather materials onsite, essentially capturing history as it happens. In this paper, the former will be referred to as rapid response collecting, while the latter is contemporaneous collecting. A nationally-distributed survey created by the author seeking both quantitative and qualitative data demonstrates that there are many challenges associated with the practices that prevent many from engaging, including lack of space, staff, time, or connection to an institution’s mission. Concurrently, the survey results highlight the benefits related to community engagement experienced by those who do pursue such activity. It is proposed that institutions with relevant missions, including history museums of varying foci, should engage in rapid response and contemporaneous collecting to better preserves contemporary materials for the future and enhance engagement with the public through socially responsive exhibitions and the diversification of representation.