After special issues of Museum Worlds: Advances in Research in 2016 and 2017, Volume 6 (2018) is an open issue. In the last two years, the journal has canvassed issues to do with museum archeology, repatriation, and engaging anthropological legacies, as well as with its annual scan of books, exhibitions, conferences, and other events around the museum world, not just in the Anglophone North Atlantic but also in Africa, Asia, the Americas, and the Pacific.
Conal McCarthy and Sandra H. Dudley
Venenum, un Monde Empoisonné, Musée des Confluences
The Musée des Confluences in Lyon, France, recently organized a remarkable exhibition: Venenum, un Monde Empoisonné. It ran from April 2017 to April 2018 and was located in one of the museum’s five large temporary exhibition spaces. Venenum did justice to the multidisciplinary and multi-thematic nature of this newly founded museum, bringing together objects otherwise classified separately as natural history, art, ethnography, or history.
Sharon Ann Holt, Sophie Kazan, Gloriana Amador, Joanna Cobley, Blaire M. Moskowitz, Elena Settimini, Angela Stienne, Anna Tulliach, and Olga Zabalueva
Exhibition Review Essays
The National Museum of African American History and Culture, Washington, D.C.
After Darkness: Social Impact and Art Institutions
Behind the Red Door: A Vision of the Erotic in Costa Rican Art, The Museum of Costa Rican Art, San José
“A Positive Future in Classical Antiquities”: Teece Museum, University of Canterbury, Christchurch
Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Anche le Statue Muoiono: Conflitto e Patrimonio tra Antico e Contemporaneo, Museo Egizio, Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo, Musei Reali, Turin
Rethinking Human Remains in Museum Collections: Curating Heads at UCL
Ritratti di Famiglia, the Archaeological Museum, Bologna
100% Fight – The History of Sweden, the Swedish History Museum, Stockholm
Heterotopia or Carnival Site?
Rethinking the Ethnographic Museum
This article seeks to explore the Bakhtinian carnivalesque in relation to museums generally and to ethnographic museums in particular. The Bakhtinian carnivalesque is based on antihierarchicalism, laughter, embodiment, and temporality, and it has the potential to move museums away from a problematic association with heterotopia. Instead, the carnivalesque allows ethnographic museums to be recognized as active agents in the sociopolitical worlds around them, offers a lens through which to examine and move forward some current practices, and forces museums to reconsider their position and necessity. This article also reflects on the value of transdisciplinary approaches in museum studies, positioning literary theory in particular as a valuable analytical resource.
Houses for the Curious
Curating between Medicine, Life and Art
This article considers a curiosity-driven approach to curating focused on material culture that visitors encounter in physical spaces. Drawing on research into historical curiosity cabinets, it explores how a contemporary notion of curiosity has been put into practice in the new breed of culturally enlightened museums exploring interdisciplinary approaches to medicine, health, life, and art. Based on an inaugural professorial address at Copenhagen University, it reflects on exhibition projects there and at the Wellcome Collection in London. Museums are institutional machines that generate social understanding from material things. Their physical spaces influence how we learn, think, and feel in public; their material collections feed our comprehension, imagination, and emotions; and induce attentive behavior in curators and visitors.
Museums, Power, Knowledge
Michel Foucault argues that truth is not to be emancipated from power. Given that museums have played a central role in these “regimes of truth,” Foucault’s work was a reference point for the debates around “the new museology” in the 1980s and remains so for contemporary debates in the field. In this introduction to a new volume of selected essays, the use of Foucault’s work in my previous research is considered in terms of the relations between museums, heritage, anthropology, and government. In addition, concepts from Pierre Bourdieu, science and technology studies, Actor Network Theory, assemblage theory, and the post-Foucaultian literature on governmentality are employed to examine various topics, including the complex situation of Indigenous people in contemporary Australia.
Stefan Berger, Anna Cento Bull, Cristian Cercel, Nina Parish, Małgorzata A. Quinkenstein, Eleanor Rowley, Zofia Wóycicka, Jocelyn Dodd, and Sarah Plumb
War Museums and Agonistic Memory
Within the EU-Horizon-2020-funded project Unsettling Remembering and Social Cohesion in Transnational Europe (UNREST),1 one work package (WP4) analyzed the memorial regimes of museums related to the history of World War I and World War II in Europe. An article by Anna Cento Bull and Hans Lauge Hansen (2016) entitled “Agonistic Memory” provided the theoretical framework for the analysis. Drawing on Chantal Mouffe’s work (2005, 2013), the authors distinguish three memorial regimes: antagonistic, cosmopolitan, and agonistic.
Unexpected Encounters: Museums Nurturing Living and Ageing Well
As the world’s population ages, how can museums nurture living and aging well? The conference Unexpected Encounters: Museums Nurturing Living and Ageing Well, organized by the Research Centre for Museums and Galleries (RCMG) from the School of Museum Studies, University of Leicester, set out to interrogate this question, and invited conference delegates to consider how museums unconsciously make assumptions about older people and perpetuate the dominant societal view of aging as a “problem.”
Why Looking at Objects Matters
An Argument from the Aesthetic Philosophy of Alexander Gottlieb Baumgarten
Within museum studies, there has been a recent interest in engaging with objects and their material effects as something other than vehicles for human cultural meaning. This article contributes to this interest by offering a philosophical argument for the value of close sensory engagement with physical things, an argument found in the works of the eighteenth-century German philosopher Alexander Gottlieb Baumgarten (1714–1762), who is famous for fathering the modern philosophical discourse on aesthetics. Baumgarten outlines what he terms sensate thinking, defined as an analogue to rational thinking, and insists that this form of thinking can be analyzed and sharpened according to its own rules. I discuss how Baumgarten’s aesthetics might be useful for how the curator approaches objects in exhibitions and for understanding how visitors’ sensory engagement with the objects can be important beyond the deciphering of historical narratives and conceptual meanings.
Women “Making History” in Museums
The Case of Female Curators in Postwar New Zealand
This article examines three remarkable New Zealand women, Nancy Adams, Rose Reynolds, and Edna Stephenson, who, as honorary or part-time staff, each began the systematic collecting and display of colonial history at museums in Wellington, Christchurch, and Auckland in the 1950s. Noting how little research has been published on women workers in museums, let alone women history curators, it offers an important correction to the usual story of the heroic, scientific endeavors of male museum directors and managers. Focusing largely on female interests in everyday domestic life, textiles, and clothing, their activities conformed to contemporary gendered norms and mirrored women’s contemporary household role with its emphasis on housekeeping, domestic interiors, and shopping and clothing. This article lays bare the often ad hoc process of “making history” in these museums, and adds complexity and a greater fluidity to the interpretations we have to date of women workers in postwar museums.