Images of the Brazilian National Museum in flames shocked the world. The 200-year-old institution, based in a former imperial palace, was home to plants and animals collected during nineteenth-century expeditions throughout Brazil, mummies and minerals gathered by the Portuguese royal family, prehistoric fossils and meteorites, and artifacts of extinct indigenous peoples. A collection of inestimable importance.
Five issues ago, this journal celebrated the museum’s bicentenary. Now, this special issue presents an overview of the collection and activities carried out at the museum, as well as at similar institutions in Brazil and abroad, discussing the challenges they face and how they can ensure the preservation of valuable collections and the sustainability of these organizations.
University museums typically aim to promote exhibitions and aid teaching and research. This is central to the discussion on management and funding sources. Two articles address the organization and cost of maintaining the National Museum, and how similar institutions in other countries operate and are funded.
Christina Queiroz traveled to Rio de Janeiro to report on the museum’s social anthropology postgraduate course, one of six programs offered by the institution, two of which are rated as excellent by the Brazilian Federal Agency for Support and Evaluation of Graduate Education. The ethnographic and linguistic collections will be recreated in partnership with indigenous peoples and communities. Ricardo Zorzetto visited the Emílio Goeldi Museum of Pará in Belém, which hosts collections related to the natural history, archaeology, and anthropology of the Amazon region. Marcos Pivetta and Léo Ramos Chaves went to Serra da Capivara National Park, in the state of Piauí, to visit the Museum of the American Man and the future Museum of Nature, which is to be inaugurated in December. Both projects were conceived by archaeologist Niède Guidon, who at age 85 is now preparing to hand over leadership of the foundation she created.
The São Cristóvão Palace was the main exhibition center, but the museum complex is actually spread across the Quinta da Boa Vista park. The fire thus affected different collections in different ways, and at least 10% was spared. The herbarium remained undamaged, while the archaeology , paleontology, and geology sections suffered immense losses, including pterosaur fossils, as did the zoology department, which almost certainly lost its insect and arachnid collections. This issue also addresses topics related to the USP Zoology Museum, the recovery of collections at the Butantan Institute after a fire in 2010, the Rio de Janeiro Botanical Garden, and the USP Museum of Archaeology and Ethnography.
Protecting such important collections demands a multidisciplinary approach and continuous preservation and conservation work, as shown in the article on page 80. One important tool is digital scanning. The Historical Archive, which offers an institutional memory of the National Museum, was destroyed by the fire, but there are plans to rebuild it using reproductions. The integrity of the buildings that host the collections is fundamental. Reconstruction of the palace will need to incorporate modern security techniques to guarantee the safety of both the artifacts and the visitors . This matter is already being discussed at the Paulista Museum, closed since 2013.
We hope this issue will help reflect on the position these museums hold in society and the ways we can better appreciate them.Republish