This course is designed to introduce students to the broad implications of the control, management, investigation, presentation, and interpretation of collections of things considered of cultural significance. A tradition of more than 400 years can be traced from the sixteenth-century European collections made by a network of nobles, merchants, and explorers to the universal museums of the nineteenth century. Many of the universal museums established in the nineteenth century persist today as national museums, and of these, the Smithsonian Institution can be taken as a model. Participants in this seminar will be introduced to the contemporary workings of museums, and will use frameworks provided to examine how constituent museums that form part of the Smithsonian can be understood as sites of knowledge creation. This course frames museums within contemporary issues of cultural heritage (repatriation, the international traffic in antiquities) and cultural diplomacy (implementation of the UNESCO Convention, development and circulation of collaborative international exhibitions). Students will gain a basic understanding of the structure of western museums; the history of the universal museum; relationships between cultural property and national identity; and contemporary cultural policy issues.
Taught by Professor Rosemary Joyce