What is a curator?

This is one question we are often asked.  It is not an easy one to answer, largely because the job description for such a position within an organization varies depending on the size, mission, and funding of the organization in question.

The simple answer, however, is that a curator is an individual who looks after a collection.   

But this answer is not only too simple, it isn’t the way things usually are today. 

Traditionally, curatorships in museums, for instance, have been defined around individuals.  The truth is, however, it takes many people to properly look after, study, and safeguard collections.

Through the generosity of Chicago’s Regenstein Foundation, we have been able to realize a dream long held for our Pacific collections.

We now have a true Pacific Curatorship and not just a Pacific curator for these remarkable collections, an endowed core team of dedicated experts: 

Regenstein Curator of Pacific Anthropology

Regenstein Collections Manager for Pacific Anthropology

Regenstein Conservator for Pacific Anthropology




For further discussion, please see:

John Edward Terrell  (1979).   What is a curator?  Field Museum of Natural History Bulletin 50(4): 16-17 (the link is to the entire volume, now on-line).



Voyaging canoe near Buka Island, North Solomons

From J. J. H. de Labillardière's atlas published in 1817 and reproduced here by courtesy of the Rare Book Room, Library, Field Museum

John Edward Terrell  (1979).  What is a museum curator?  Science Digest 86(6): 68-71.

John Edward Terrell  (1991).  Disneyland and the future of museum anthropology.  Invited commentary.  American Anthropologist 93: 149-153.

John Edward Terrell  (1991).  Museums and modern life:  "Mirror for Man"or "Door in the Wall"?  Invited paper, Taonga Maori Conference, New Zealand, November 18-28, 1990.  Pacific Arts 4: 8-13. 

John Edward Terrell  (1991).  We want our treasures back.   In the Field (Bulletin of the Field Museum of Natural History) 62 (2): 14-15.

John Edward Terrell  (1993).  We Want Our Treasures Back.  Museums Journal 93(3): 34- 36.