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Critical Museology

A Manifesto

Anthony Shelton

Synthesizing work carried out by the author over the past twenty-five years, this article proposes a tentative disciplinary definition of critical museology, distinguishing its related methodological interdictions and describing its distinctiveness from what is here defined as operational museology. The article acknowledges the diverse intellectual sources that have informed the subject and calls for a reorientation and separation of critical museology from the operational museologies that form part of its area of study. Critical museology, it is argued, is not only an essential intellectual tool for better understanding museums, related exhibitionary institutions, fields of patrimony and counter patrimonies, and the global and local flows and conditions in which they are embedded, but is also crucial for developing new exhibitionary genres, telling untold stories, rearticulating knowledge systems for public dissemination, reimagining organizational and management structures, and repurposing museums and galleries in line with multicultural and intercultural states and communities.

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Borders and Interruptions

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.

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Interruptions: Challenges and Innovations in Exhibition-Making

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

Abstract

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.

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Sonya Atalay, Nika Collison Jisgang, Te Herekiekie Herewini, Eric Hollinger, Michelle Horwood, Robert W. Preucel, Anthony Shelton, and Paul Tapsell

Edited by Jennifer Shannon

ABSTRACT

What do those who participate in repatriation—on behalf of the museums and the communities to whom there is return—most want people to know about it? Nine prominent scholars provide short commentaries in response to this special section on the ritual processes of repatriation. The discussants are museum professionals, Indigenous community members, repatriation claimants, and repatriation officers; these are not mutually exclusive categories. They discuss the transformative power of repatriation on museums, communities, and our individual selves, and provide models for appropriate cultural practice and how to demonstrate respect. Their contributions call us to ceremony, to restorative justice, to engage in repatriation, and to witness how it has changed them.

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Museums in the Pandemic

A Survey of Responses on the Current Crisis

Joanna Cobley, David Gaimster, Stephanie So, Ken Gorbey, Ken Arnold, Dominique Poulot, Bruno Brulon Soares, Nuala Morse, Laura Osorio Sunnucks, María de las Mercedes Martínez Milantchí, Alberto Serrano, Erica Lehrer, Shelley Ruth Butler, Nicky Levell, Anthony Shelton, Da (Linda) Kong, and Mingyuan Jiang

Throughout human history, the spread of disease has closed borders, restricted civic movement, and fueled fear of the unknown; yet at the same time, it has helped build cultural resilience. On 11 March 2020 the World Health Organization (WHO) classified COVID-19 as a pandemic. The novel zoonotic disease, first reported to the WHO in December 2019, was no longer restricted to Wuhan or to China, as the highly contagious coronavirus had spread to more than 60 countries. The public health message to citizens everywhere was to save lives by staying home; the economic fallout stemming from this sudden rupture of services and the impact on people's well-being was mindboggling. Around the globe museums, galleries, and popular world heritage sites closed (). The Smithsonian Magazine reported that all 19 institutes, including the National Zoo and the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI), would be closed to the public on 14 March (). On the same day, New Zealand's borders closed, and the tourism industry, so reliant on international visitors, choked. Museums previously deemed safe havens of society and culture became petri dishes to avoid; local museums first removed toys from their cafés and children's spaces, then the museum doors closed and staff worked from home. In some cases, front-of-the-house staff were redeployed to support back-of-the-house staff with cataloguing and digitization projects. You could smell fear everywhere.