Collections people, like collections managers and registrars, sometimes ponder (and debate for hours) the strangest things. Do we use Last Name, First Name or First Name Last Name? Inches or Centimeters? H x W x D or L x W x H ? Organize by object type or by culture? If you have any idea of what I’m talking about, you probably should work in the collections department of a museum, if you don’t already.
The most recent discussion in the Ethnology & History lab at the University of Alaska Museum of the North surrounds the difference between “models” and “miniatures” and which is the preferred terminology for most of the small versions of full-sized things we have in the collection. Della Hall, Ethnology’s skilled and knowledgeable curatorial assistant, had many good points to counter some of my own.
As with many debates surrounding collections-issues, we started by looking at a couple of nomenclature books. Chenhalls didn’t even have “model” as a classification. Next step? Google it! Nothing definitive pops up. Dictionary? Of course!
Miniature: noun: A copy or model that represents or reproduces something in a greatly reduced size; adjective: Being on a small or greatly reduced scale.
Yes… now we’re getting somewhere. And now the other?
Model: noun: A small object, usually built to scale, that represents in detail another, often larger object.
Okay, when they use one word to define the other, I know we’re working on a good problem of distinction, but one that when determined, will prove a valuable standard. So after further discussion and examples, here’s what Della and I have decided will be our definition and standard for usage.
MINIATURE: All objects in the collection that are simply small versions of their full-sized counterparts. For our Common Name field in the database, we might find examples such as: Kayak, Miniature; Canoe, Miniature; Cabin, Miniature; Snowshoes, Miniature; etc.
MODEL: Any objects in the collection that are intended to be exact replicas of their full-size counterparts, at a pre-determined and standardized ratio of miniaturization (i.e., “scale models”). This will likely be items that are manufactured, and the scale verified and consistent across the entire piece, such as: Train Engine, Model; Airplane, Model; Automobile, Model; Sternwheeler Boat, Model; etc.
While this may not end up being a perfect system, and certainly seems to go against our vernacular (i.e., “model kayak,” “model totem pole,” “model sled,” it seems to be based on solid rationale and can be duplicated time and again. It could be argued that the hand-made miniature kayaks that were produced by master Native artists are nearly-perfect replicas of the full-sized items in our collections, and very possibly scale models of them. However, it would be challenging for us to make that determination for each and every piece. And it would lead us to inconsistencies between those items that are scale models and those that are not but are the same object-type (i.e., some kayaks might be models, while others will be miniatures).
Here’s a selection of images to illustrate this standard. All photos copyright UAMN.
As always, I welcome feedback regarding this standard!