Exhibiting Culture/s: Anthropology In and Of the Museum

Over the past two centuries, the museum has emerged as one of the primary institutional venues for intercultural encounter mediated by objects. Practices of both collection and display have been central to the imagining and valuing of various kinds of cultural others, and to the construction and communication of knowledge about the world’s peoples. This course will examine multiple historical and theoretical points of articulation (and disarticulation) between the museum and the discipline of anthropology. Topics include: the place of the “exotic” curio in early modern European and colonial collections; the rise of natural history and social evolutionary paradigms for exhibiting non-Western objects; the development of professional anthropology in the museum; popular forms of ethno-spectacle (e.g. the world’s fair and cinema), and the lasting tension between education and entertainment; debates surrounding “primitivism” and avant-garde interest in non-Western art; nationalism and sovereignty in the wake of decolonization; anthropological study of museums as sites of cultural production and contest; and the role of the digital in ethnographic display and collection management. Through critical readings, discussions, and museum visits, students will come to better understand and appreciate the dynamics of collecting, studying, and displaying the art and material culture of diverse global peoples. Opportunities to work closely with local collections and institutions will be encouraged. 3 credits. Based on research paper topic, can satisfy the non-Western requirement.