Exhibiting Culture/s: Anthropology In and of the Museum


Spring 2015


5th Floor Classroom


Aaron Glass

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 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; and contemporary anthropological and ethnographic studies of museums as sites of cultural production and contest. 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 the world’s peoples. Opportunities to work closely with collections and institutions (especially the American Museum of Natural History) will be encouraged. 3 credits. Based on research paper topic, the course can satisfy the non-Western requirement.