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Civilizing Museums

Editorial

Sandra H. Dudley

This volume of Museum Worlds opens with Howard Morphy reflecting on his involvement in the development of the British Museum’s recent Indigenous Australia: enduring civilisation exhibition. Morphy begins his commentary by ruminating on the idea of civilization and its complex relationship to museums. Historically these institutions have—together with academic disciplines—drawn upon the notion of civilization, explicitly or implicitly, to categorize objects as art or antiquities on the one hand versus craft, ethnography or material culture on the other. Of course this has also meant—still means—classifying peoples as civilized or not civilized, however directly or indirectly, intentionally or otherwise. Museums are, as Morphy points out, still “struggling with categories that have their origins in past histories.”

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Sandra H. Dudley and Kylie Message

Museum Worlds: Advances in Research represents trends in museum-related research and practice. It builds a profile of various approaches to the expanding discipline of museum studies and to work in the growing number of museums throughout the world. It traces major regional, theoretical, methodological, and topical themes and debates, and encourages comparison of museum theories, practices, and developments in different global settings.

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Sandra H. Dudley and Conal McCarthy

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Kylie Message and Sandra H. Dudley

Whether or not museums can live up to the ideal that they provide a public forum has become something of a moot point, if not a stereotype of the past three decades. Museum studies researchers, scholars, and professionals have been proactive in their attempts to understand whether museums can or do provide a physical manifestation of what has been generally considered an aspirational concept or model of practice. Some have been directly inspired by philosophers and sociologists such as Jürgen Habermas (1991), Nancy Fraser (1990), and Craig Calhoun (1992), as well as the critical cultural studies “movements” that have circulated around interdisciplinary journals such as Theory, Culture and Society (http://tcs.sagepub.com/) and Public Culture (http://www.publicculture.org/). Others have drawn on current and emerging directions in disciplines such as anthropology, history, and geography to explore the public sphere concept from the perspective of transnational and postcolonial concerns, and have been influenced by theorists including Seyla Benhabib (1992), Arjun Appadurai (1996), Dipesh Chakrabarty (2000), and Aihwa Ong (2006). Ultimately, of course, much of the museum-focused work—within which we include both the theoretical and the applied (for example, exhibition-based)—has been interdisciplinary. Like the wider critical debates on which it draws and to which it contributes, museum scholarship has been aff ected by ongoing global change, and has reflected—and, in many national contexts, influenced—public policy shifts before and since the new millennium.

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Conal McCarthy and Sandra H. Dudley

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.