Writing at the midpoint of 2020, it has become cliché to say we are living in unprecedented times as the world copes with a confluence of events and challenges near cataclysmic proportions—the COVID-19 pandemic, civic unrest, social and political upheavals, and disrupted economies. In these times, what should be the work of culture, heritage, and musealized spaces and those that study them? I reflect on the articles in the special section, which stand as examples of engaged research and scholarship that seek to make visible troubled histories and presents, and to amplify voices that have for too long been silenced or ignored. Such visibility work surfaces what does and does not have precedent, what has and has not changed, and what is truly different and revolutionary. The articles draws on historical, comparative, and global perspectives to enrich knowledge gained from firsthand observation and engagement with local communities. Using Donna Haraway’s concept of “tentacular thinking,” I argue that we need not only to shed light on difficult chapters in our histories, but also to offer tools for understanding, guidance, and thoughtful actions in the present.
The Work of Culture, Heritage, and Musealized Spaces in “Unprecedented Times”
Paul Ashton and Alex Trapeznik, eds. What Is Public History Globally? Working with the Past in the Present. London: Bloomsbury, 2019.
Kylie Message. The Disobedient Museum: Writing at the Edge. Museums in Focus series. London: Routledge, 2018.
Susan L. T. Ashley. A Museum in Public: Revisioning Canada’s Royal Ontario Museum. Museums in Focus series. London: Routledge, 2020.
Adrian Franklin. Anti-Museum. Museums in Focus series. London: Routledge, 2020.
Kylie Message. Collecting Activism, Archiving Occupy Wall Street. Museums in Focus series. London: Routledge, 2019.
Greagh Smith, Conal McCarthy, Bronwyn Labrum, Ken Arnold, Dominique Poulot, Jill Haley, Jun Wei, and Safua Akeli Amaama
Joan H. Baldwin and Anne W. Ackerson. Women in the Museum: Lessons from the Workplace. New York: Routledge, 2017.
Christina Kreps. Museums and Anthropology in the Age of Engagement. London: Routledge, 2020.
Ken Gorbey. Te Papa to Berlin: The Making of Two Museums. Dunedin, New Zealand: Otago University Press, 2020.
Inge Daniels. What Are Exhibitions For? An Anthropological Approach. London: Bloomsbury, 2019.
Dario Gamboni. The Museum as Experience: An Email Odyssey through Artists’ and Collectors’ Museums. Turnhout, Belgium: Brepols.
Yulia Karpova. Comradely Objects: Design and Material Culture in Soviet Russia, 1960s–80s. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2020.
Gail Dexter Lord, Guan Qiang, An Laishun, and Javier Jimenez, eds. Museum Development in China: Understanding the Building Boom. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2019.
Philipp Schorch with Noelle M. K. Y. Kahanu, Sean Mallon, Cristián Moreno Pakarati, Mara Mulrooney, Nina Tonga and Ty P. Kāwika Tengan. Refocusing Ethnographic Museums through Oceanic Lenses. Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2020.
The rhetoric and poetics of a slavery exhibition
Paula Mota Santos
In 2009, in Lagos, Portugal, the remains of 158 bodies of fifteenth-century enslaved Africans were unearthed. In 2016, Lagos City Council inaugurated a slavery-themed exhibition in collaboration with the Portuguese Committee of UNESCO’s Slave Route Project. Through an analysis of the exhibition’s rhetoric and poetics, I argue that the former is yet another instance of Lusotropicalism, a theoretical construct developed by Gilberto Freyre throughout the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s to support the construct of Brazil as a racial democracy, and appropriated by Portugal to support the “benign” character of its colonial system. As a consequence, slavery and Portugal’s role in the transatlantic slave trade, although apparently brought into the light in this exhibition, are in fact hidden in plain sight because both the rhetorical and poetic devices at play conspire to evade addressing the colonial order and its historical consequences, both past and present.
Deviant Heritage Comes Out of the Shadows
Rachel F. Giraudo
Amid changing state laws to legalize the growing, selling, and use of cannabis for medical and recreational purposes in the United States, activists and advocates continue to help legitimize cannabis through museum-like practices and heritage work. They recognize the importance of destigmatizing the plant and its users, and effectively use exhibits to educate the public as one means of spreading their message. Given the rapid commodification of legal cannabis, some are also documenting its prohibition in order to protect members of cannabis subcultures whose livelihoods are now threatened. Through engaged scholarship, I examine efforts of two museums and two groups of advocates to represent and make visible the heritage of cannabis in the United States.
Report on the Panel on Ethnographic Museums and Indigenous People, ICOM Kyoto, September 2019
At the twenty-fifth triennial ICOM International General Conference, which took place in Kyoto, Japan, on 1 to 7 September 2019, decolonization and restitution were discussed during a whole afternoon under the heading “Decolonization and Restitution: Moving Towards a More Holistic Perspective and Relational Approach.” Two consecutive sessions with simultaneous translation in English, French, Spanish, and Japanese were attended by almost one thousand people in each session. Speakers for both sessions were representatives of their respective ICOM National Committees. ICOM’s Code of Ethics for Museums, adopted in 1986 at the fifteenth General Conference in Buenos Aires, is recognized worldwide and serves as a guideline in museum work, especially the sixth principle: “Museums work closely with both the communities from which their collections originate and those they serve.”
The world has changed. In early 2020, when COVID-19 spread around the globe, closing museums and universities and disrupting life as we know it, Museum Worlds: Advances in Research, like many academic and professional journals, was also affected. Of course, in a pandemic with so many lives lost, and many others exposed to illness, unemployment, and the disruption of the economy, travel, and trade, the tertiary and cultural sectors were bound to be adversely impacted as well. With the shutting of museums and galleries, university teaching going online—resulting in increased workloads for academics, the laying off or furloughing of staff, the delaying of the production of books and journals (with publishers unable to send books out), and the cancellation and/or delay of conferences and research projects—it was natural that we would also struggle to get together an issue for 2020. It was indeed a challenge compiling Museum Worlds 8 as the virus raged, but thanks to our hard-working team of editors, our generous and patient contributors, our tireless readers and peer reviewers, and the expert advice of Janine Latham and her colleagues at Berghahn, we got there. I want to thank everyone involved in this issue for their help in seeing it into print, and especially Dr. Susette Goldsmith, my editorial assistant, for being there in the final stages.
Sara Selwood and Lillia McEnaney
Hogarth: Place and Progress, Sir John Soane’s Museum, London, 9 October 2019 – 5 January 2020.
Place, Nations, Generations, Beings: 200 Years of Indigenous North American Art, Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Connecticut, 1 November 2019–28 February 2021.
How a Māori Meeting House in England cultivated relationships and understanding
This report discusses the overriding significance of cross-cultural relationships in heritage management and conservation with regard to Hinemihi o te Ao Tawhito, the whare whakairo (“carved meeting house”) “displaced” in the late nineteenth century from Te Wairoa in Aotearoa New Zealand to Clandon Park in England. Looking at the history and meanings of the meeting house through the relationships of those who interacted with her, it demonstrates how listening, learning, and understanding are at the heart of improving professional practice in museums and heritage practice globally. This article is derived from and expands upon an assignment written for the course MHST507 “Museums and Māori” taught by Awhina Tamarapa as part of the PG-Dip in Museum and Heritage Practice at Te Herenga Waka Victoria University of Wellington in May 2020.
The Second World Museologies Workshop, National Museum of Ethnology (MINPAKU), Osaka, December 2019
Laura Osorio Sunnucks, Nicola Levell, Anthony Shelton, Motoi Suzuki, Gwyneira Isaac, and Diana E. Marsh
Anthropology and its institutions have come under increased pressure to focus critical attention on the way they produce, steward, and manage cultural knowledge. However, in spite of the discipline’s reflexive turn, many museums remain encumbered by Enlightenment-derived legitimating conventions. Although anthropological critiques and critical museology have not sufficiently disrupted the majority paradigm, certain exhibitionary projects have served to break with established theory and practice. The workshop described in this article takes these nonconforming “interruptions” as a point of departure to consider how paradigm shifts and local museologies can galvanize the museum sector to promote intercultural understanding and dialogue in the context of right-wing populism, systemic racism, and neoliberal culture wars.