There is no doubt that we live in fraught times. In the world of museums and cultural heritage protection, we feel it keenly. As symbols and microcosms of respective cultures, museums are thought to reflect society or, at the very least, sections of society or certain historical moments. But the extent to which museums should and do reflect the diversity of people in those societies is the question du jour. Sometimes, it seems as if this question is an internal one—the practical struggle of often underfunded institutions to square the injustices of a past that is encoded into collections with a newfound awareness of visitors, or the theoretical debate about just how multivocal, democratic, and oriented toward social justice a museum can be before it ceases to be a “museum.” The consequences of such struggles and debates can often seem far removed from the concerns of ordinary residents, who may only occasionally visit museums or heritage monuments. Our perception of this disregard perhaps calls into question the impact of our work. But in times of crisis, that doubt is removed and the relevance of cultural heritage becomes clear. Crisis often crystallizes what is most important. That is not surprising. In this special section, we explore the sometimes surprising nature of the aftermath.
Sheila K. Hoffman, Dominique Poulot, Bruno Brulon-Soares, and Joanna Cobley
Competing Visions of Museum Collecting in Early Twentieth-Century America
In the great age of museum institutionalization between 1875 and 1925, museums competed to form collections in newly defined object categories. Yet museums were uncertain about what to collect, as the boundaries between art and anthropology and between art and craft were fluid and contested. As a case study, this article traces the tortured fate of a large collection of folk pottery assembled by New York art patron Emily de Forest (1851–1942). After assembling her private collection, Mrs. de Forest encountered difficulties in donating it to the American Museum of Natural History and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. After becoming part of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, it finally found a home at the Pennsylvania State Museum of Anthropology. Emily de Forest represents an initial movement in the estheticization of ethnic and folk crafts, an appropriation that has since led to the establishment of specifically defined museums of folk art and craft.
Kylie Message, Eleanor Foster, Joanna Cobley, Shih Chang, John Reeve, Grace Gassin, Nadia Gush, Esther McNaughton, Ira Jacknis, and Siobhan Campbell
Book Review Essays
Museum Activism. Robert R. Janes and Richard Sandell, eds. New York: Routledge, 2019.
New Conversations about Safeguarding the Future: A Review of Four Books. - A Future in Ruins: UNESCO, World Heritage, and the Dream of Peace. Lynn Meskell. New York: Oxford University Press, 2018. - Keeping Their Marbles: How the Treasures of the Past Ended Up in Museums—And Why They Should Stay There. Tiffany Jenkins. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016. - World Heritage and Sustainable Development: New Directions in World Heritage Management. Peter Bille Larsen and William Logan, eds. New York: Routledge, 2018. - Safeguarding Intangible Heritage: Practices and Politics. Natsuko Akagawa and Laurajane Smith, eds. New York: Routledge, 2019.
The Filipino Primitive: Accumulation and Resistance in the American Museum. Sarita Echavez See. New York: New York University Press, 2017.
The Art of Being a World Culture Museum: Futures and Lifeways of Ethnographic Museums in Contemporary Europe. Barbara Plankensteiner, ed. Berlin: Kerber Verlag, 2018.
China in Australasia: Cultural Diplomacy and Chinese Arts since the Cold War. James Beattie, Richard Bullen, and Maria Galikowski. London: Routledge, 2019.
Women and Museums, 1850–1914: Modernity and the Gendering of Knowledge. Kate Hill. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2016.
Rethinking Research in the Art Museum. Emily Pringle. New York: Routledge, 2019.
A Natural History of Beer. Rob DeSalle and Ian Tattersall. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2019.
Fabricating Power with Balinese Textiles: An Anthropological Evaluation of Balinese Textiles in the Mead-Bateson Collection. Urmila Mohan. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2018.
Museums in the Age of Global Mobility, Mexico City, 7–9 June 2017
Gwyneira Isaac, Diana E. Marsh, Laura Osorio Sunnucks, and Anthony Shelton
While museums are perceived as institutions dedicated to the dissemination and exchange of culturally diverse knowledges, museum scholarship has been hampered by a lack of multilingual networks and publications necessary for the exchange of museological perspectives between different linguistic, regional, and national communities. At the same time, the museum decolonization movement, the move from monocultural to pluricultural societies, the political resurgence of cultural essentialism, escalating environmental deterioration, and the international impact of current migration crises—by both uniting and dividing peoples—have clarified the need for institutions to socially and intellectually engage with the increasingly complex global flows and disruptions of people and ideas.
Medieval and Renaissance manuscripts were a significant commodity in the antiquarian sales market throughout the twentieth century, sought out by very wealthy collectors and small-scale buyers. The history of this manuscript market has not been analyzed systematically. This article is a first attempt to identify themes and trends across the century, beginning with the dominance of the great American Gilded Age collectors like Henry Huntington and the Morgans and their need to memorialize themselves. It argues that future research needs to assemble comprehensive data on prices and buyers in order to make possible more systematic analyses of trends and activities, and a more sophisticated understanding of the different reasons for which collectors collected and of the changing nature of manuscripts as objects with their own biographical trajectories and their own agency.
A Conversation with Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett
What was the first museum you remember visiting?
I was born in September 1942 during the war. My parents came from Poland. Three weeks after I was born, 6,500 Jews from my father’s hometown, Opatów (Apt, in Yiddish), 65% of the population, disappeared overnight. All but 500 were sent to the Treblinka death camp, and the rest to a forced labour camp. So I grew up in an immigrant neighbourhood in the immediate postwar years. I went through an ultra-Orthodox period (my parents were horrified). I became not only strictly kosher, but also I observed the Sabbath very strictly. That meant I could not ride, spend money, turn on the radio, write, tear paper . . . I could do almost nothing. Except . . . I could walk to the Royal Ontario Museum. . . . and I did. So this was before the era of helicopter parents. At the age of 10, 11, 12 years old, I would walk out of my house, through Queen’s Park, to the ROM, and that was my beloved childhood museum.
Museum Worlds: Advances in Research Volume 7 (2019) is an open issue, covering a rich variety of topics reflecting the range and diversity of today’s museums around the globe. This year’s volume has seven research articles, four of them dealing with very different but equally fascinating issues: contested African objects in UK museums, industrial heritage in Finland, manuscript collecting in Britain and North America, and Asian art exhibitions in New Zealand. But this issue also has a special section devoted to Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, which contains three articles and an interview.
Emily Stokes-Rees, Blaire M. Moskowitz, Moira Sun, and Jordan Wilson
Exhibition Review Essay:
Exhibition without Boundaries. teamLab Borderless and the Digital Evolution of Gallery Space by Emily Stokes-Rees
The Colmar Treasure: A Medieval Jewish Legacy. The Met Cloisters, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York by Blaire M. Moskowitz
Shanghai Museum of Glass, Shanghai; Suzhou Museum, Suzhou; and PMQ, Hong Kong by Moira Sun
The Story Box: Franz Boas, George Hunt and the Making of Anthropology. Exhibition at the Bard Graduate Center Gallery in New York City (14 February–7 July 2019) and the U’mista Cultural Centre in Alert Bay, British Columbia (20 July–24 October 2019) by Jordan Wilson
Studying with Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett in the 1990s
In this article, I reflect on the experience of attending Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett’s class Performance Studies Issues and Methods at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts in the 1990s. Recalling the classes and field trips to events and sites in New York City, and the emphasis that she placed on reading texts and taking field notes, I consider the lessons I learned for performance studies, anthropology, and museums, and also for teaching, research, and scholarship in general. Why did this practice of taking notes from the field, from books in particular, and the note-taking practice in general, play such a central role in Kirshenblatt-Gimblett’s teaching? The steady and consistent focus both on theory and on the observation of social practices was a means of opening up new spaces for theoretical analysis or for a “performed theory,” to use Kirshenblatt-Gimblett’s term.
The Cold War in History Museums around the Baltic Sea
This article derives from the research project entitled “Art, Culture and Conflict: Transformations of Museums and Memory Culture around the Baltic Sea after 1989,” which was financed by the Foundation for Baltic and East European Studies, Södertörn University. It discusses how history museums in Finland, Sweden, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania have reacted to the fall of the Iron Curtain and the conclusion of the Soviet occupation of the three Baltic states. It argues that the Cold War is understood by the museums as a special historical epoch not comparable to any other historical period in these six countries. It concludes that to be able to deal with this particular point in history we either need to metaphorically put the Cold War in between red brackets, as it were, which makes it possible to address the Cold War when needed, or to place it outside the historical narrative of the modern rise of the five discussed nation-states.