CC 325 A: Museum History and Culture
MWF 11:30-12:20 pm
Museums reveal what cultures value most. In their architecture, collections, and public programs museums demonstrate how people organize knowledge, think about the past, and see themselves in relation to others. This seminar will examine the history of museums in Europe and America from the Renaissance to the present, tracing the development of a wide variety of institutions, including art museums, natural history museums, history museums, and science and technology museums. Topics will include the nature of collecting as a human activity, history and memory, museums and nationalism, culture as entertainment, and the politics of taste. We will pay close attention to challenges facing museums today, such as Native Americans’ demand for the return of human remains and artifacts, the politics of the representation of racial, ethnic, and religious difference, and the proper response to tragedies such as the Holocaust or 9/11.
Students will take a midterm exam and complete a term project analyzing one museum of their choice, requiring both a fifteen-page paper and a final PowerPoint presentation. They will attend three Saturday or Sunday field trips to Chicago and Indianapolis. Major readings will include: Edward P. Alexander, Museums in Motion: An Introduction to the History and Function of Museums (2007 edition), James Cuno, Museums Matter: In Praise of the Encyclopedic Museum (2011), and Lawrence Weschler, Mr. Wilson’s Cabinet of Wonder: Pronged Ants, Horned Humans, Mice on Toast and Other Marvels of Jurassic Technology (1996).