UMAC is the international committee for university museums and collections of the International Council of Museums (ICOM). The University of Pretoria (UP) Museums hosted Dr Marta Lourenço from the University of Lisbon in Portugal, President of UMAC to address the online cohort comprising of museum professionals and practitioners from eight universities.
According to the Head of the UP Museums, Dr Sian Tiley-Nel, "UMAC is represented in sixty countries on nearly all the continents, except Africa" and it was my mission back in September 2019 to get the first South African cohort of curators, archivists, managers and other professionals on board and to begin a collective network across universities in South Africa."
This first meeting was held online on the 23 June 2020, supported by ICOM-SA (http://network.icom.museum/icom-sa/) and was attended by 33 representatives from the University of Pretoria, University of the Witwatersrand, North West University, University of KwaZulu-Natal, University of Cape Town, Stellenbosch University, Rhodes University and the University of South Africa.
This first forum hopes to share our galleries, libraries, archives and museums- often referred to as GLAMs, as a means of holding, curating and conserving collections, stimulating exchanges and providing a collective resource, not just for the professionals, but UMAC can be used by researchers, students and the public.
Dr Lourenço is also the Director for the National Museum of Natural History and Science of the University of Lisbon and the National Coordinator of Portuguese Research Infrastructure of Scientific Collections. She teaches Material Culture of Science in the Masters of History and Philosophy of Science and is a research member of the Interuniversity Research Centre for the History of Science and Technology at the University of Lisbon. It was indeed an honour for the UP Museums for her to be our distinguished guest at the first UP-UMAC-SA meeting and she encouraged the necessity of a local network to internationalise university museums and collections in South Africa.
Dr Lourenço expressed, “that universities were among the first institutions to systematically collect objects and specimens to document nature, the universe, and ourselves.”
UMAC is the largest international forum of higher education museums and collections in the world. It proved to be the ideal local instrument to initiate as UMAC is a global advocate for higher education museums and collections of all sizes, types and across disciplines.
It contributes to society by supporting the development and sustainability of university museums, art galleries, collections from both the humanities and the sciences, archives, libraries, herbaria, medical and teaching, by representing collections holistically that are held within a university environment. University museums and collections are also increasingly recognized essential resources devoted to culture, research and education.
UMAC encourages research about university museums and collections and is founded upon three research lines, profiling the community of professionals, the role of museums and collections and holistic heritage in the so-called ‘third mission’ of universities and the history and memory of UMAC itself.
The UP Museums are active institutional members of ICOM and UMAC for more than a decade and it came as a shock to realize that Africa was not represented and other than UP Museums, no university in South Africa was a member of UMAC. As an international committee, UMAC was created in 2001 and fully upholds the values and principles enshrined in the ICOM Code of Ethics and the Magna Charta Universitatum, see http://www.magna-charta.org/. This charter was first signed in Europe in Bologna by 388 rectors and heads of universities in 1988. It has stood the test of time well and contains principles of academic freedom and institutional autonomy as a guideline for good governance and self-understanding of universities in the future.
Universities in South African and indeed across the continent hold some of humanities finest cultural, archival and art collection. South African universities have fantastic collections; even though many of them are not in a museum, the collections cover the arts, sciences and humanities and many archival and library collections hold special collections unique to the world. The inclusion and growth of university museums and collections into the worldwide UMAC database are listed at https://university-museums-and-collections.net/.
It is encouraging to know that this new network of UMAC-SA now joins their international forums of academic museums and collections in the world, and UMAC has expressed its ongoing support to the University of Pretoria Museums as a project partner and founding member of UMAC-SA. Meanwhile, the ZA network is already on the UMAC list of networks, http://umac.icom.museum/resources/networks/
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