In this class we have focused on the nitty-gritty of museum work, from basic exhibit design techniques and audience research tools to fundraising and (this week) human resource management. We have not dwelled at all on the larger issue of what is a museum? What are museums for, and more importantly, what are the implications for cultural and political power that collecting, preserving, and representing history of a variety of cultures entails?
Via Ed Rodley, this article by British sociologist Tiffany Jenkins warns about repatriation trends in western museums and offers a definition of enlightenment-based universal museum. Courtney Johnston, director of an art museum in New Zealand, wrestles with Jenkins’ criticism. Johnston offers a thoughtful take on the current shift in museums’ identities and shifts in cultural power.
Take a look. Tell us what you think.
The chief bit of legislation that informs this conversation in the United States is the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA). You should be familiar with it.