Exhibiting Culture: Museum as an Artifact 58.375/201/301
Department Faculty



Syllabus of Lectures


COURSE DESCRIPTION: More than a physical place, the museum represents certain sets of ideas and ideals of a specific culture. This course provides a historical and theoretical overview of museums and their exhibitions.

COURSE OUTCOMES: Students attain an understanding of the social and historical development of the institution of the museum. Through critical readings and writings, they are able to analyze the fundamental assumptions of museums and exhibitions as a medium of and setting for a specific ideology. Students gain in-depth knowledge through analysis of specific case studies.

-Ivan Karp and Steven D. Lavine, eds. Exhibiting Cultures: The Poetics and Politics of Museum Display. Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1991.

-Barnet, Sylvan. A Short Guide to Writing About Art. New York: Prentice Hall, 1992.

COURSE WEBSITE: The course website has important www links to the study of museums


Assigned Readings and Oral Discussion
One to two articles and/or book chapter will be required reading for each class (40 to 80 pages per class). These readings will be summarized and discussed in class.

Discussant's Format
Every student is expected to be prepared to discuss the assigned readings in detail; each person will be responsible for leading the class in discussion of one of the assigned readings/articles. The discussant/s should present a general summary of the content of assigned article/s for which he/she/they are responsible. Assume that everyone has read and understood the article; do not provide a page by page summary. The major issue/s raised by the article/s must be presented as well as the strengths and weaknesses of the arguments. Your own opinions and assessments are also valuable. It is often helpful to prepare 5 to 8 questions to stimulate discussion.

Written Reviews 40 % of Grade

Critical Essays
Fifteen critical written reviews of the assigned readings will be required. The written reviews are not summaries of the reading but unified and coherent analyses of each article directed at a literate, general audience. The one to two paragraph essays should address an aspect of the text, which has provoked your curiosity or moved you to critical reflection; or you may prefer to assess the argument. A summary of an assigned article is part of the preparation for class discussion; therefore, a written summary of a reading will not be accepted. Refer to Barnet, Chapter 5, for useful suggestions concerning writing style and paragraphs. For certain weeks, I have required a specific reading to be reviewed; in other weeks, you may select the article/chapter you wish to review (see Course Outline). Field visits to museums will also be analyzed critically. There are more than fifteenth opportunities to write critical essays. The printed essays must be double-spaced with one-inch margins (Times font @ 12 point) and should not be longer than 1.5 pages. The essay must be submitted in class, in person and no later than the due date assigned. No late essays will be accepted. Each essay will be edited and graded using the criteria described below.

Essay Grading Criteria

How well does the student address the specifications of the assignment?

Does the student introduce the topic?
Is the supporting discussion/argument well reasoned and effective?
Has the student written toward and included a conclusion?

Is the style appropriate to an intelligent audience?
Are the paragraphs unified and coherent?
Are there technical error s of sentence structure, spelling, grammar, and punctuation?

Further, during the course of the semester, one essay from each student will be posted in the Occasional Paper section of the class website. Class members will be asked to comment on the ideas and content of each essay.

Oral Report 30% of Grade
A 30-minute oral report will also be required of each student. Selection and development of a topic will be discussed in class. Attendance at all the oral reports is mandatory. Attendance records will be kept; unexcused absences will result in a lower final grade.

Research Paper 30% of Grade
A 5 to 8 page (exclusive of footnotes, bibliography and illustrations) research paper on the same topic selected for the oral report is required. The research paper will be presented in a draft form and final form. Citation of your research sources is very important. "Citation" means that you must attribute paraphrased as well as directly quoted material. Any illustrations must also have proper citations. The Chicago or MLA citation systems may be used.

Research Schedule
February 15, 2001: Research Topic Due
March 15, 2001 -- Required: Research Paper Outline and Bibliography due
April 3, 2001-- Optional Research Paper First Draft due
My review of your first draft is optional. This review is highly recommended because many students do not receive the final grade on their research paper that they think they deserve because of writing errors and other technical problems. Some of this disappointment can be avoided with a simple review of a draft of the paper.
May 8, 2001 -- Completed Research Paper is due

PLAGIARISM WARNING! I expect every student in this class to understand the necessity of citing your sources in order to avoid plagiarism. Your citations will be checked; "errors" will not be looked upon kindly and, in more serious cases, may result in disciplinary action.


Week One: January 30 and February 1
Introduction: The History of the Museum
Read: Henietta Lidichi, "The Poetics and Politics of Exhibiting Other Cultures,"
[handout pp154-160].

Week Two: February 6 and February 8
Establishing Definitions, Negotiating Meanings, Discerning Objects
Read: Henietta Lidichi, "The Poetics and Politics of Exhibiting Other Cultures,"
[handout 184-194]
Timothy Mitchell, "Orientalism and the Exhibitionary Order" [handout].
Carol Duncan, "Art Museums and the Ritual of Citizenship "in Karp, pp. 88-103.
DUE: One critical essays on readings

Week Three: February 13 and February 15
Culture and Representation
Assignment: Go to a local museum and analyze one exhibit [see Exhibit Assignment]. Your written analysis is due on February 15 by e-mail to me. It will be posted on the course website and discussed in class on February 22.
Read: Svetlana Alpers, "The Museum as a way of Seeing" in Karp, pp. 25-32; Michael Baxandall, "Exhibiting Intention" in Karp, pp. 33-41; Masao Yamaguchi, "The Poetics of Exhibition in Japanese Culture " in Karp, pp. 57-67; B.N. Goswamy, "Another Past, Another Context, " in Karp, pp. 68-77
DUE: One critical essays on readings and museum analysis

February 15, 2001: Research Topic Due

Week Four: February 22: [No Class February 20]
Museums and Identity -- Discuss Museum Analyses
DUE: Review essays on the website and be prepared to discuss the museum

Week Five: February 27 and March 1, 2001
Museums Collecting
Read: Spenser Crew and James Sims, "Locating Authenticity; Fragments of a Dialogue" in Karp, pp. 88-103; Jeanne Cannizzo, "Gathering Souls and Objects: Missionary Collections" in Barringer, 153-166; Susan Vogel, "Always True to the Object, in Our Fashion" in Karp, pp. 191-204; Patrick Houlihan, "The Poetic Image and Native American Art" in Karp, pp. 205-211.
DUE: Required: One critical essays

ARH 375 -- Exhibition Analysis
Henrietta Lidichi concludes that Museums do not simply issue objective descriptions or form logical assemblages; they generate representations and attribute value and meanings in line with certain perspectives or classificatory schemas which are historically specific. They do not so much reflect the work through objects as use them to mobilize representations of the world past and present.

Exhibition Analysis Assignment
In light of our readings to date and the above conclusion, go to a local museum and analyze one exhibit. Your written analysis is due on February 15 by e-mail to me. It will be posted on the course website and discussed in class on February 22.

Follow the following format:
1. Name of the Museum
2. Title and brief description of the exhibit.
3. Analysis of the exhibit. Your analysis should include answers to the
following questions (see Lidichi pp 159-160).

* Audience--Who do you see as the intended audience?
* Classification--What is the classification scheme of the exhibit?
* Motivation--What is the ostensible reasoning behind the exhibit?
* Interpretation--What worldview is being supported by the exhibit?