Dictatorships on Display: History Exhibitions in Germany and Austria (MLG3036)

StaffProfessor Chloe Paver - Convenor
Credit Value15
ECTS Value7.5
NQF Level6
Duration of Module Term 2: 11 weeks;

Module aims

The module introduces you to a range of critical methods that can be used in reading museum displays and to the role of museum objects as signifiers and agents within national memory cultures. The focus is on Germany and Austria since 1990 (and particularly since 2000). In this time, both countries have, in different ways, responded to the need to face up to the horrors of the Third Reich, while new museums of Jewish culture have begun to document Jewish life and culture before, during, and after the Holocaust. In addition, Germany has had to deal with the legacies of East German communism.

After a brief introduction to issues in museum studies and in German and Austrian cultural memory, the syllabus focuses on three categories of object, each of which poses a different set of problems for curators wishing to preserve and display them: Jewish objects, National Socialist objects, and GDR objects. Questions are asked about the availability of objects for collection, the selection of objects for display, the information and ideas encoded in them, their narrative potential, and the arrangement of objects around the exhibition space. You are encouraged to think creatively, envisaging alternative ways of selecting and displaying objects, and to consider the ethical duties of the museum curator.

ILO: Module-specific skills

  • 1. Demonstrate a detailed knowledge of selected exhibitions and museum displays in Germany and Austria
  • 2. Demonstrate a critical understanding of key issues in German and Austrian cultural memory, especially those relating to the era of National Socialism and the dictatorship of the former GDR, and apply these to museum displays
  • 3. Demonstrate a critical understanding of key issues in Museum Studies and Material Culture Studies; in particular, discuss the status and signifying possibilities of the museum object

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

  • 4. Demonstrate advanced visual and material literacy, in particular an ability to apply theoretical and critical categories to three-dimensional objects, taking into account cultural and institutional contexts
  • 5. Argue at length and in detail about an aspect of the topic, supporting the argument with evidence from museum displays and evaluating critical approaches from the research literature independently
  • 6. compile a broad bibliography that covers the chosen research topic adequately and follow formatting guidelines in presenting it

ILO: Personal and key skills

  • 7. Manage own learning time and learning activities with limited guidance from course tutor(s)
  • 8. Undertake independent researches on the basis of a taught course
  • 9. Negotiate individual assessment tasks and/or topics with course tutor(s), identifying own areas of strength and interest

Syllabus plan

Whilst the content may vary from year to year, it is envisioned that it will cover some or all of the following topics:

Lectures are 1 hour long; seminars 2 hours.


  • Introduction to relevant fields (Museum Studies, Material Culture Studies, Cultural Memory); introduction to issues in German/Austrian cultural memory 
  • The museum object as sign: part/whole relations and taxonomic relations 
  • Power and value in the museum object: the archive and the rubbish heap 
  • Interventions and other tricks with objects 
  • Objects in Space: exhibition layout, inside/outside boundary, vistas, etc. 


  • Jewish objects, National Socialist objects, GDR objects: what makes these objects 
  • GDR objects 
  • Jewish objects 
  • National Socialist objects 
  • Synopsis

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled learning and teaching5Lectures
Scheduled learning and teaching10Seminars
Scheduled learning and teaching1Conclusion/Office hour
Guided independent study134Private study

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Short essay750 words1-9Opportunity for discussion with tutor in office hour
Group presentation1 x 20 minutes1-9Oral feedback in class

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Essay 1003000 words1-9Written feedback (pro forma); opportunity for meeting with tutor

Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
EssayEssay1-9Referral/Deferral period

Re-assessment notes

Deferral – if you miss an assessment for certificated reasons judged acceptable by the Mitigation Committee, you will normally be either deferred in the assessment or an extension may be granted. The mark given for a re-assessment taken as a result of deferral will not be capped and will be treated as it would be if it were your first attempt at the assessment.

Referral – if you have failed the module overall (i.e. a final overall module mark of less than 40%) you will be required to submit a further assessment as necessary. If you are successful on referral, your overall module mark will be capped at 40%.

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

  • Paul Betts, The Twilight of the Idols: East Germany Memory and Material Culture, Journal of Modern History, 72 (2000), 731-65.
  • Janet Marstine (ed.), New Museum Theory and Practice (Oxford: Blackwell, 2006)
  • Sabine Offe, Sites of Remembrance? Jewish Museums in Contemporary Germany, Jewish Social Studies 3/2 (Winter 1997), 77-89.
  • Robin Ostow (ed.), (Re)Visualizing National History: Museums and National Identities in Europe in the new Millennium (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2008)
  • Chloe Paver, You Shall Know them by their Objects: Material Culture and its Impact on Museum Displays about National Socialism', in Rebecca Braun and Lyn Marven (eds), Cultural Impact in the German Context: Models of Transmission, Reception and Influence (Rochester, NY: Camden House, 2010), pp. 169-87.
  • Charity Scribner, From the Collective to the Collection: Curating Post-Communist Germany, New Left Review, 237 (Sept/Oct 1999), 137-49.
  • Exhibition catalogues, including: Barta-Fliedl, Ilsebill and Herbert Posch (eds), InventArisiert. Enteignung von Mbeln aus jdischem Besitz (Vienna: Turia und Kant, 2000)
  • Salmon, Naomi Tereza, Asservate / Exhibits. Auschwitz, Buchenwald, Yad Vashem (Ostfildern: Cantz, 1995)
  • Shalev-Gerz, Esther, MenschenDinge / The Human Apsect of Objects (Weimar: Stiftung Gedenksttte Buchenwald und Mittelbau-Dora, 2006)

Module has an active ELE page?


Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

Indicative learning resources - Other resources

  • A full reading list will be supplied at the outset of the module

Available as distance learning?


Origin date


Last revision date


Key words search

Germany, Austria, museums, visual arts, material culture, cultural memory, memory studies, heritage