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

Unit name Museums and Heritage: Critical Perspectives
Unit code ARCHM0076
Credit points 20
Level of study M/7
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 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 includes 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

Intended learning outcomes

After successfully completing this course you should be able to:

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

2. Critically explore and engage with the civic and technical functions of museums and heritage sites, and situate this in expanded political, historical and social trajectories;

3. Understand how the historical development of museums and growth in heritage links to wider social transformations;

4. Critically assess the various theoretical approaches to the functions of museums and heritage sites and select and engage with methodological tools of analysis;

5. Work with a corpus of relevant case studies relating to museums and heritage, nationally and internationally;

6. Analyse and assess critically advances in museum and heritage research by undertaking literature reviews and bibliographic searches.

Teaching details

Weekly lecture slots supported by self-directed activities

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

Assessment Details

One essay and one analysis (mid semester and end of semester)

Mid semester Analysis of Museum or Heritage site: 1000-word essay (30%) ILOs 1, 2, 4,5

End of semester Essay: 4000-word essay (70%) ILOs 3, 5, 6

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