Shifts in perceptions of social responsibility and a rapidly changing global environment have recently been presenting curators and scholars with a number of unprecedented challenges. In this course, these challenges will be examined from a variety of vantage points in order to understand why they have attained particular resonance today and why many practices and conceptions that once seemed self-evident now seem questionable and/or unsustainable.
The course will emphasize in-depth study of cases that illuminate not only the rise of ethical concerns for museum practitioners and scholars, but also the growing need to think about museums in global terms. Special attention will be paid to situations in which museum traditions and historical contingency can give rise to competing ethical arguments. As such, the course will develop a nuanced historical and theoretical framework for thinking about museums today. In the process, the course will also consider whether recent developments demand rethinking of accepted views of museum history and museums’ cultural, economic and political functions.
Topics likely to include:
- looted art/artifacts and demands of return/repatriation (from Napoleon and Elgin to the Nazis and beyond);
- the ethics of global bodily procurement, display, and profit (Body Worlds and its supporting institutions);
- defining and serving plural audiences: new responsibilities, new missions?;
- the rise of the memorial museum;
- paying the bills, selling out — sponsorship and deaccessioning in global context.