620505 Dismantling the Mausoleum Museum Critique and Museum Utopias

Online Seminar, Winter 2020/21, World Heritage Studies

Dr. Roland Meyer

Mondays, 1:45 – 3:15 pm (seminar sessions);

3:45 – 5:00 pm (consultations) on WebEx

(link will be provided via Moodle)

Since early 2020, museums worldwide had to face the dire consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic. Most had to shut down and cancel exhibitions, some will never open again. But even for those who could re-open during summer, conditions have changed dramatically. International tourist crowds and big blockbuster exhibitions, who fueled the global museum boom of the last decades, may very well be a thing of the past, and the financial prospects of many institutions seem bleak. At the same time, new challenges, from the digital transformation to the demands for restitution of looted artifacts, force many museums to re-invent themselves and reflect on their core values and future mission.

This time of crisis, uncertainty and fundamental challenges may also be a time to look back into the history of the museum and the ideas that formed it: what it was, what it promised to be, what it could have been, and what it has become. Rather than being merely a global success story, as it has sometimes been framed, the European concept of the modern museum has never been uncontested and unchallenged. On the contrary, since its beginnings in the 19th century it has witnessed various waves of critique, sometimes arguing for wide-ranging reform, sometimes attacking the very foundations of the institution. 

In the seminar, we will read and discuss both classic and contemporary examples of various kinds of museum critique, voiced by scholars, artists, activists, and museum professionals alike. We will explore the flaws and blind spots of the hegemonial concept of the European museum, its complicity with colonialism, nationalism, and neoliberalism, and we will have a look at unrealized museum utopias imagining an alternative, different kind of museum. Finally, we will ask for our own visions for the future: How could the museum we want and need look like? 


The course will give students a critical insight into the history of the modern museum and the concepts that formed it, thus enabling them to develop their own position towards the challenges museums are facing today. The course will take place as a mostly synchronous online seminar, with assigned readings, regular written reading responses and recurring online-group discussions via video conferencing. A reader will be provided via Moodle at the beginning of the semester. 

Course requirements

Regular reading responses, participation in online discussions via video conferencing, and final paper. 

Link to Moodle