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LibrlSt 722: Special Topics in Contemporary Cultural Studies
Daniel Sherman, Professor of History & Director of the Center for 21st-Century Studies

The Culture of Museums

Suggested Preliminary Readings
Roland Barthes, Mythologies
John Berger, Ways of Seeing
Steven Dubin, Displays of Power: Memory and Amnesia in the American Museum

Course Description

This seminar examines museums as central institutions in the charting, categorization, and dissemination of various forms of knowledge about humanity, the natural world, and culture in the modern West. We will consider museums as places where assumptions about the world play out in particular practices that revolve around the acquisition, display, and interpretation of objects. Although some of these practices now are specific to museums, and even form the basis for specialized professions, the course emphasizes the ways in which museums draw on, respond to, and alter cognate activities and sites in the wider culture, including fairs, expositions, private galleries, zoos, historic sites, shops, and media.

The course is organized thematically, but also follows a broad chronological development from the Renaissance to the present. Topics include the history of collecting, the ethics of acquiring and exhibiting objects, museum architecture, and constructions of the public museum. As a seminar, it is a collaborative enterprise emphasizing critical and historical reflection in reading, writing, and looking. The bulk of the work of the course involves reading from the new and expanding field of critical museum studies, but it also includes group visits to several area museums.

Requirements include two short papers, a group presentation on museums on the web, and a longer paper focusing either on a specific institution or on a problem in critical museum studies.

Thursday, 6:20-9pm

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