Museums and Difference

A major conference under the sponsorship of the Center for 21st Century Studies in partnership with the Milwaukee Art Museum

Date: November 14-15, 2003

The conference explored the ways museums of all types present and represent difference, whether cultural, temporal, or of some other kind, and the ways in which manifestations of and assumptions about human difference enable, undergird, and occasionally perhaps challenge museums' own institutional practices. Although scholars and museum professionals have explored this topic with respect to certain types of museums, especially ethnology and natural history museums, the conference was designed to extend the discussion to all types of museums, notably including art museums. We conceive of "museums" very broadly: both as a shorthand term for a wide array of exhibiting practices and environments, including institutions in the developing world and those that challenge traditional configurations of museum culture, and as the intersection of disciplinary formations, professional practices, and networks of consumption, exchange, and reproduction. Although it focused on the contemporary situation of museums, the conference's chronological scope encompassed the entire museum age, from the eighteenth century to the present. The types of "difference" under discussion included race, ethnicity, gender, religion, distinctions between public and private spheres, and the relationships between colonial settlers and indigenous peoples. Geographically, paper topics ranged from Europe to Africa, Asia, Oceania, and the Americas.

Conference schedule

14 November 2003, Friday

The Milwaukee Art Museum

Welcome and Introduction (MAM Auditorium)
David Gordon, Director, Milwaukee Art Museum
Daniel J. Sherman Director, Center for 21st Century Studies, UWM

Universal Particulars: Museums Past and Future
Andrew McClellan (Tufts University): "Art Museums, Commonality, Trauma: Baghdad through a Veil of Tears"
Annie Coombes (University of London): "Contesting 'Community,' Creating the 'Nation': The Trouble with District Six"
Nélia Dias (University of Lisbon): "Cultural Diversity and Cultural Difference: The Case of the Musée du Quai Branly"
Moderator: Daniel Sherman (History, UWM)

Video Presentation by Renée Green (UC Santa Barbara)

Difference and the Institution: Notes on Practice
Brooke Anderson (American Folk Art Museum, New York):
"The Ultimate Outsiders: Self-Taught Artists in Museums and the Academy"
Norman Kleeblatt (Jewish Museum, New York):
"Art, Interpretation, Meanings"
Régis Michel (Musée du Louvre, Paris):
"Crushing Difference: Museums in Crisis"
William Truettner (Smithsonian American Art Museum):
"How to Look at Difference and Not See It"
Moderator: Nicholas Thomas (University of London):
"Exhibiting Cultural Exchange"

15 November 2003, Saturday

The UWM Hefter Center

Embodying Difference
Ira Jacknis (University of California-Berkeley): "'The Last Wild Indian in North America': Ishi and the University of California Museum of Anthropology"
Alice Conklin (University of Rochester): "Skulls on Display: Scientific Racism the Musée de l'Homme, 1928-1940"
Angus Lockyer (Wake Forest University): "National Museums and Other Cultures in Japan"
Moderator: Bettina Arnold (UWM)

Keynote by Tony Bennett (Open University, UK):
"The Fold of Memory: Evolution, Museums and the Governance of Difference"

Race, Identity, and Diversity
Peter McIsaac (Duke University): "Something Wholly Unprecedented in History? Gunther von Hagens' 'Body Worlds' Exhibition"
Robert Haywood (University of Notre Dame):
"Interrogative Art, History, and Tourism"
Lissant Bolton (The British Museum): "Living and Dying: Ethnography, Class and Aesthetics in the British Museum"
Moderator: Andrew Kincaid (UWM)

Public and Private
Mark Sandberg (University of California-Berkeley):
"Temporary Housing: Model-Home Spectators and Housing Exhibitions in the Early Scandinavian Design Movement"
Anne Higonnet (Barnard college):
"The Gift of the Museum"
Christopher Steiner (Connecticut college):
"Representing the 'Offbeat': Marginality, Media and Museums"
Moderator: Leslie Bellavance (UWM)



Center for 21st Century Studies

Merry Wiesner-Hanks


Center for 21st Century Studies
University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
P.O. Box 413, Milwaukee, WI 53201 USA
tel: 414-229-4141; fax: 414-229-5964; email:



  Last updated 7/23/08 by DSC