The Future of Ethnographic Museums Conference

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James Clifford

“May you live in interesting times”: The Ethnographic Museum Today

James Clifford (University of California Santa Cruz)

New publics and branding exercises; complex relations with source communities; material pressures and generational shifts; performance art and digital networking; innovative forms of collaboration and research... The talk explores the good and the bad news for museums devoted to cross-cultural understanding in times of globalization and decolonization.

Sharon Macdonald

Making Differences and Citizens in Ethnographic Museums

Sharon Macdonald (University of York)

Over recent decades, ethnographic museums in many European countries have been remarkably vital, often drawing on their collections in new, sometimes experimental, ways to address topics of current concern. Increasingly, many position themselves as ‘socially relevant’ agencies of ‘intercultural under- standing’ and cosmopolitan ‘spaces of dialogue’ in demographic contexts in which those who would once have been the distant others of their displays might now live in the same city...

Wayne Modest

Curating Between Self Hate and Self Love: Ethnographic Museums and Ethno-nationalist Politics

Wayne Modest (Tropenmuseum, Amsterdam)

There is a palpable anxiety within the Dutch museum sector as budget cuts threaten to reduce drastically the funding of individual museums. This anxiety is felt especially amongst ethnographic museums as the survival of the Tropenmuseum is under threat and the funding of the Wereldmuseum in Rotterdam has been reduced significantly.Additionally, three postcolonial cultural history museums (Nusantara, Maluku, Ninsee) closed their doors in 2012. Concurrently, the Rijksmuseum – broadly seen as representing glorious Dutch history – has reopened at a cost of approximately €375 million...

Nicholas Thomas

The Importance of Being Anachronistic

Nicholas Thomas (University of Cambridge)

In a major recent review for the Arts Council of England, Baroness Estelle Morris observed that museums “create a sense of place”, and are “rooted in the communities that have shaped them”. This is true in a profound but also paradoxical sense. Most great museums hold collections that do not represent the communities local to them, but that may embrace the cultures of the world, and passages in human history now remote from day-to-day experience. These institutions were shaped, moreover, not by ‘communities’ in the normal sense (the inhabitants of a town or region), but by elaborate and far-reaching networks...

Ruth Phillips

Push Back: Decolonizing Ethnography Museums and the 21st Century Matrix of Politics, Money and Technology

Ruth B. Phillips (Carleton University)

Depending on your vantage point, the prospects for continuing the process of decolonization in ethnography museums can look either bright or grim. If you are standing on the Mall in Washington DC, contemplating the preparation of new long-term exhibits at the National Museum of the American Indian, you might take heart from that institution’s willingness to scrap the expensive and elaborate installations it created for its opening less than a decade ago in order to reinvent itself in light of visitor and critical response...

Annie Coombes

Making a Difference: Ethnographic Interventions from the Post Colony

Annie Coombes (Birkbeck College)

Much of the debate around both the intractable problem, and conversely the potential contemporary value, of ethnographic museums has focused attention on Europe and North America. I am interested in understanding why it is that an institution which has such a potent colonial legacy still retains credibility in nations which have themselves been subjected to particularly violent ethnographic scrutiny...

Corinne Kratz

What Makes Exhibitions Ethnographic?

Corinne A. Kratz (Emory University)

Exhibition styles and genres are often associated with different subject matters: art exhibits, history exhibits, science exhibits, ethnographic exhibits. Yet while such canonical notions of genre persist, we also know and confidently assert that exhibition genres have blurred. Ethnographic museums today are not the ethnographic museums of a century ago, although they certainly bear the legacies from which they have grown. How do they communicate both their histories and their contemporary orientations to visitors through their exhibitions?...

Kavita Singh

The Future of the Museum is Ethnographic

Kavita Singh (Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi)

Against the many predictions of the imminent death of the ethnographic museum, this paper will take a contrarian view. Rather than seeing the ethnographic museum as a thing of the past, it will argue that all museums of the future will be ethnographic: that is to say, to a greater or a lesser degree, the ethnographic mode will soon underlie all major museal and exhibitory forms...

Clare Harris

The Digitally Distributed Museum and its Discontents

Clare Harris (University of Oxford)

The proliferation of experiments with new technology that have been attempted in the last decade or so, suggests that one future for the ethnographic museum might well be digital. Whether in the form of databases, websites, online exhibitions or the use of social media, digital technology has been embraced to varying degrees by many ethnographic museums. The motivations behind such initiatives include improving access to museum collections, enhancing the profile of individual institutions beyond their physical parameters, sharing the knowledge contained within them as far afield as possible and fostering collaboration with specific audiences...


The Future of Ethnographic Museums

A panel closing discussion

The panel discussed the main conference themes, and included four speakers from the Ethnography Museums and World Cultures Project. Professor Lotten Gustafsson Reiniu, Dr. Michael Barrett (The Museum of Ethnography, Stockholm), Dr. Barbara Plankensteiner (Weltmuseum Wien, Austria) and Dr. Anne-Marie Bouttiaux (Royal Museum for Central Africa, Tervuren, Belgium)

Closing remarks are given by Professor James Clifford (University of California Santa Cruz). The panel discussion was chaired by Dr. Laura Van Broekhoven (National Museum of Ethnology, Leiden, The Netherlands)