As creative sites of representation, museums are not so different from literature and cinema. In contrast to books and films, however, the stories museums tell are spatialized and call for specific reading approaches. In this seminar, we will explore the institution of the museum in a variety of contexts: the history of museums and musealized history, the role of museums in education, cultural memory and nation-building; the semiotics and the spectacle of the exhibition; the museum’s acts of collecting, ordering, visualizing, dramatizing, story-telling; the role of exhibits, of collectors, of curators, of visitors. We will engage with questions like:
what happens to objects when they become museum exhibits? How has history, how has nature, how have people be exhibited? What are new approaches to museum exhibitions?
We will discuss these questions in the context of U.S. American museum culture – with examples like the National Mall in Washington, D.C.; specific national and regional museums; specific topics such as race, immigration, and national/regional identity; as well as representations of museums in literature and film. Additionally, excursions to museums in Berlin will provide us with practical experience.
Students will actively contribute to the seminar’s substance through individual research projects.