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Unit information: Museums and Heritage: Critical Perspectives in 2020/21

Unit name Museums and Heritage: Critical Perspectives
Unit code ARCH30048
Credit points 20
Level of study H/6
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2 (weeks 13 - 24)
Unit director Professor. Were
Open unit status Not open




School/department Department of Anthropology and Archaeology
Faculty Faculty of Arts


Museums were once understood as dusty mausoleums but are now some of the most creative and exploratory public spaces. This unit introduces interdisciplinary perspectives on the museum and on heritage: from museum origins and the growth of heritage, to their social function in contemporary society. It covers diverse contexts and perspectives through which the museum and heritage can be understood in anthropology and archaeology, from issues of power and knowledge to social agents and contact zones. It explores various themes raised by museums and heritage sites including: communities and participation, architecture and branding, cultural rights and property, memory and repatriation, and the rise of digital culture.

The unit will provide students with a detailed understanding of some of the social, political, and historical contexts in which museum and heritage institutions operate, and will prepare them towards careers in this sector. It will include site visits and some film screenings.


1. Introduce the field of critical museum and heritage studies as an interdisciplinary area of study

2. Explore the various definitions and typologies of museums and heritage

3. Examine the historical context of museums and the heritage

4. Provide an understanding of the theoretical approaches to the functions of museums and heritage sites

5. Compare and contrast different approaches to museums and heritage sites through case studies and visits

6. Analyse and assess critically advances in museum and heritage research

7. Provide students with an understanding of the contexts in which museums and heritage institutions operate, and prepare them for a career in this sector

Intended learning outcomes

After successfully completing this course you should be able to:

1. Assess how museums and heritage sites can be engaged with from an anthropological perspective;

2. Critically explore and engage with the functions and roles of museums and heritage, including exhibitions and programmes;

3. Demonstrate detailed understanding of the historical development of museums and the rise of heritage;

4. Analyse the contemporary politics of museums and heritage and their links to politics and society;

5. Demonstrate critical understanding of the theoretical approaches to the functions of museums and heritage sites;

6. Compare and contrast different anthropological approaches to museums and heritage through case studies;

7. Analyse and assess critically advances in museum and heritage research;

8. Demonstrate an understanding of the knowledge and skills required for a career in the museum and heritage sector.

Teaching details

Weekly lectures/seminars (which include time for group work and collaborative tasks).

2 x half-day (on site or self-guided) fieldtrips

Assessment Details

Two summative essays

Essay 1: 1500-word essay (30%; ILOs 1-3, 5)

Essay 2: 3000-word essay (70%; ILOs 1, 4, 6-7)

Reading and References

Byrne, D. 2014. Counterheritage. London: Routledge

Crooke, E.M. 2007. Museums and Community: Ideas, Issues and Challenges. Abingdon: Routledge

Dudley, S. H. (ed.) Museum Materialities: Objects, Engagements, Interpretations. London: Routledge.

Golding, V. and W. Modest (eds.) 2013. Museums and Communities: Curators, Collections and Collaboration. London: Bloomsbury.

Karp, I. et al (eds.) 2006. Museum Frictions: Public Cultures/Global Transformations. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Kreps, C. 2003. Liberating Culture: Cross-cultural Perspectives on Museums, Curation and Heritage Preservation. London: Routledge.

Lowenthal, D. 1985. The Past is a Foreign Country. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Meskell, L. 2015. (eds.) Global Heritage: A Reader. Chichester: Wiley Blackwell.

Peers, L. & Brown, A.K. (eds). 2003. Museums and Source Communities: A Routledge Reader. London: Routledge.

Silverman, R. A. (ed.) 2015. Museum as Process: Translating Local and Global Knowledges. Oxford: Routledge.

Stanley, N. (ed.) 2007. The Future of Indigenous Museums: Perspectives from the Southwest Pacific. Oxford: Berghahn.

Were, G. and J C H King (eds) Extreme Collecting, Oxford: Berghahn