Inside the Museum (AHV1005)

StaffDr Sabrina Rahman - Convenor
Credit Value15
ECTS Value7.5
NQF Level4
Duration of Module Term 2: 11 weeks;

Module aims

This module will introduce students to the museum as a tool for organizing, classifying, and exhibiting objects and art. Fundamentally, the intent is to demonstrate that the museum is not merely an inert space in which art is collected, stored, and exhibited, but is rather a complex form of shaping meaning through and about art and material culture. Particular attention will be paid to how the museum functions in the 21st century, including the complex intersections between the politics of globalization, the increasing attention paid to historical and contemporary art and other objects from around the world, and rapidly shifting collecting and exhibition strategies in response to these changes. Some of the key questions we will be asking about the museum in the 21st century are the following: how deep is the museum’s self-awareness and criticism of its practices and possibilities? How has the museum handled the rise of contemporary and global art and culture in relationship to issues of globalization? How does the museum organize and classify its collections? How do forms of exhibition and display frame objects? Why has there been a massive increase in biennale exhibitions around the world? How public and democratic are museums and biennales? What are the politics and ethics of repatriating cultural heritage?

Whenever possible, we will take advantage of important museums, exhibition spaces, art centres, and collections in Exeter and surrounding areas, as well as national/international collections when appropriate, in order to conduct visits and meet with directors, curators, restorers, and educators. This module also has the pragmatic goal of introducing you to one of the main career options that might be an option after graduating with a degree in Art History and Visual Culture.

You will be able to use the skills developed in this module to think about a broad range of jobs and further education possibilities related to the practices of the museum including: curating, heritage management, art conservation, exhibition design, gallerist, arts management, arts education, university teaching, public relations, fundraising, art publication, art criticism, museology, postgraduate work in art history and visual culture.

ILO: Module-specific skills

  • 1. critically evaluate the dominant concepts, methods and debates informing the study of the art museum historically and in its present manifestations
  • 2. visit an art museum and be able to understand how it contextualizes works of art and produces narratives for them, and thus is a technology integral to the discipline of art history
  • 3. apply a variety of methodologies and theoretical approaches to the interpretation of the art museum in a consistent and informed way
  • 4. analyse an exhibition in terms of its mise-en-scene

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

  • 5. research, present and evaluate relevant visual materials with increased independence
  • 6. interrogate and evaluate texts, artworks, images and representations, performances and installations and relate them with issues in the wider context of cultural and intellectual history.

ILO: Personal and key skills

  • 7. through writing and project assessments, demonstrate good research and bibliographic skills, an informed capacity to construct a coherent, substantiated argument, and a capacity to write clear and correct prose
  • 8. through research for projects and essays, demonstrate good proficiency in information retrieval and analysis
  • 9. through project work, demonstrate the ability to work collaboratively orally and/or in written form, and in teams towards the development, research, organization, and expression of ideas under pressure of time

Syllabus plan

An indicative week by week syllabus may be as follows:

  • WEEK 1: Museums and Modernity
  • WEEK 2: Citizens, Culture, and the Nation State
  • WEEK 3: The Phenomenon of Collecting
  • WEEK 4: Aesthetics and the Sociology of Taste
  • WEEK 5: Seeing and looking
  • WEEK 6: Ways of Classifying and Worldmaking
  • WEEK 7: Museum Space and the Architectonics of Making Sense
  • WEEK 8: The Politics of Exhibition, Display, and Possession
  • WEEK 9: Art, Anthropology, and (Post) Colonialism
  • WEEK 10:  Curatorial Practices
  • WEEK 11: Contemporary Art: Museums, Biennale Exhibitions, and Globalization

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 Teaching Activities 11lectures
Scheduled Learning and Teaching Activities 5Seminars - these will be led by the tutor. You will need to prepare for each seminar and to present on a given topic on at least one occasion
Guided independent study 134Independent study including reading, research, preparation for seminars and assessments.

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Mini-Essay750 words1-8Feedback sheet with opportunity for tutorial follow-up
Oral presentation (group project)5-10 minutes1-9Peer-assessment recorded on feed-back sheet with tutorial follow-up

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
Essay1002500 words1-8Feedback sheet with opportunity for tutorial follow-up

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

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
EssayEssay1-8Referral/deferral period

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

  • Jean Baudrillard, ‘The System of Collecting’, in John Elsner and Roger Cardinal (eds) The Cultures of Collecting, 1994
  • Pierre Bourdieu et al. The Love of Art: European Art Museums and their Public , 1990
  • Brian Doherty, I nside the White Cube: The Ideology of the Gallery Space , 1986
  • Carol Duncan Civilizing Rituals: Inside Public Art Museums, 1995
  • Elena Filipovic, “The Global White Cube,” in Barbara Vanderlinden and Elena Filipovic (eds) The Manifesta Decade: Debates on Contemporary Art Exhibitions and Biennials in Post-Wall Europe , 2005
  • Ivan Karp and Steven D. Lavine (eds) Exhibiting Cultures: the Poetics and Politics of Museum Display , 1991
  • Barbara Kirschenblatt-Gimblett, Destination Culture: Tourism, Museums, and Culture, 1998
  • Sharon Macdonald (ed.) A Companion to Museum Studies, 2011
  • Andrew McClellan, Inventing the Louvre: Art, Politics, and the Origin of the Modern Museum in Eighteenth-Century Paris, 1999
  • Kylie Message, New Museums and the Making of Culture, 2006
  • Donald Preziosi and Claire Farago (eds.) Grasping the World: The Idea of the Museum, 2004

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Key words search

Visual Culture; Media; Art History; Museum