National Museums, Globalization, and Postnationalism

Imagining a Cosmopolitan Museology

in Volume 1 (2013): Issue 1 (Jul 2013)

In recent years it has been asked whether it is time to move ‘beyond the national museum’. This article takes issue with this assertion on the grounds that it misunderstands not only museums as cultural phenomenon but also the ways in which globalization, nationalism, and localism are always enmeshed and co-constitutive. The article begins by considering theories of globalization, postnationalism, and cosmopolitanism and their relevance for national museums in the European context. Specific theories of cosmopolitanism are subsequently further explored in relation to two museum examples drawn from the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh and the Museum of European Cultures in Berlin. In different ways both examples demonstrate the potential for museums to engage visitors with ideas of cosmopolitanism, globalization, and postnationalism by revisiting, reframing, and reinterpreting existing national collections and displays. In the process the article makes the case for the merits of a nationally situated approach to cosmopolitanism in European museums. At the same time it acknowledges some of the potential limits to such endeavors. The article concludes by imagining what a ‘cosmopolitan museology’ would offer in terms of practice, politics, and ethics.