Institute of Archaeology
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The Museum: Critical Perspectives

This course aims to provide an introduction to the history and theory of museums. It does so by approaching the museum from a series of critical perspectives, considering the museum, in turn, as collection, as institution, as architecture, as exhibition, as site of memory, and as venue for social advocacy. It explores these different conceptualisations of the museum by drawing on case examples which reflect a diversity of museum contexts, including art museums, ethnographic museums, natural history museums, social history museums, science museums, and so forth in different regional and cultural settings. The course considers the representational role of museums in nation building, and their entanglement in localising and globalising processes; it explores the museum’s relationship to memory and commemoration; its social roles and responsibilities; and its extension into digital domains. Building on a tradition of ‘critical museology’, the course seeks to provoke students into questioning what a museum is and does, and what it can be. It seeks to provide the broader historical and theoretical context to enable students to engage critically with contemporary museum practice.

Aims

This course aims to introduce students to the history and theory of museums by approaching the institution of the museum from a series of critical perspectives. Building on a tradition of ‘critical museology’, the course seeks to provoke students into questioning what a museum is and does, and what it can be. It seeks to provide the broader historical and theoretical context to enable students to engage critically with contemporary museum practice.

Objectives

On successful completion of the course students should be able to:

  • Demonstrate a good knowledge and understanding of the history and development of museums in different contexts
  • Discuss and debate the concept and functions of the museum
  • Employ theoretically-informed perspectives to critique established museological practice
  • Demonstrate a familiarity with, and express opinions about, current museological debates
  • Think and act beyond routinised ‘Eurocentric’ accounts and definitions of museums and cultural heritage, and be able to critically appreciate ‘alternative’ conceptualisations and understand the complexities involved in the globalisation of museological practices

Learning outcomes

  • Familiarity with established knowledge
  • Ability to apply knowledge in familiar and new situations for academic purposes
  • Capacity for independent learning
  • Capacity for critical thinking
  • Capacity for independent inquiry
  • Ability to read and understand a wide range of academic writing
  • Ability to speak and write accurately on academic topics in an academically rigorous manner
  • Ability to work as a team, make oral presentations and lead discussions

Teaching methods

The course is taught through a series of ten three-hour seminars which take place weekly in Term 1. These are supported by museum visits and talks, and film screenings. Students are expected to come to the seminars having read the assigned weekly readings, such that they can make active and informed contributions to discussions. The class will be divided into smaller reading groups. These groups will be encouraged to meet independently each week to discuss readings and undertake additional self-directed museum visits. Each group will be required make presentations and lead discussions in class.


For registered students


Availability: Runs every year


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