(Mis-)Representing Cultures and Objects:
Critical Approaches to Museological Collections
A workshop at the University of Stirling, 16 May 2014
The issue of how we represent global cultures and associated material collections has been at the core of museological and postcolonial theory in recent years, with different formulations wrestling with the questions of how museums can address their histories and ensure the relevance of their collections. Key to this debate, are the terms employed for the objects themselves and the categories that museums deploy for the conventional purposes of interpretation and display. For example, the uncritical use of terms such as ‘religion,’ ‘art’ or ‘ethnography’ have a profound effect on how material culture is presented in museums and studied in universities.
There are a number of key factors in this debate. One is the provenance of the objects. Another is the ideological and – often – colonial context within which the objects were acquired. A third is the stated and inferred purposes of museums, which have their own ideological history. A fourth is the biographical positionality and status of the collector. There would also be the methods at different stages of acquisition for providing a description and valuation of the objects. And finally, there are the terms employed for the objects themselves and the categories that museums deploy for the conventional purposes of interpretation and display. For example, the uncritical use of terms such as ‘religion,’ ‘art’ or ‘ethnography’ have a profound effect on how material culture is presented in museums and studied in universities.
The University of Stirling, through the pioneering approaches to the study of categories under the descriptor Critical Religion, has been instrumental in deconstructing the term ‘religion,’ with a significant impact on the study of global cultures. Through a collaborative project between the University of Stirling and National Museums Scotland, this work has been applied to the context of Tibetan material culture and the western construction of Tibetan Buddhism in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, in particular by missionary and military collectors. This has resulted in the completion of a PhD by Inbal Livne with the title Tibetan Collections in Scottish Museums 1890-1930: A Critical Historiography of Missionary and Military Intent.
Following on from this project, this workshop will explore the way in which academics within museums and universities are challenging historically assumptive terms in the identification, interpretation and use of material culture evidence. We will also examine how collaborations between museums and universities can encourage and develop new ways of examining museum collections.
The workshop will include a brief description of the collaborative Tibet project, and papers from museum professionals working directly on the practical application of these theoretical issues in relation to the display of Tibetan material culture.
We invite other scholars working on Tibet – or comparable contexts with history and identity represented in museum collections – to present papers that address one or more of the following, particularly as these different aspects relate to one another:
- Missionary involvement in collecting for museums in the UK, and issues that arise in that context.
- The construction of problematised terms such as ‘religion,’ ‘art,’ ‘ethnography,’ etc. in the context of the study of global material culture.
- The examination of new and creative collaborations between museums and universities in developing the deconstruction of historically specific classifications of global cultural practices.
- Historical processes of engagement and revision with regard to museum and archival collections.
- The impact of postcolonial and postmodern thinking on museological and archival practice.
Please note that we are looking to publish a selection of papers from the workshop in an edited volume; acceptance of an abstract does not, at this stage, imply acceptance for publication, but all papers will be considered. Further information on this will be forthcoming at the workshop.
Deadline for Call for Papers:
Please email abstracts of approximately 300 words to Rajalakshmi Nadadur Kannan by 7 February 2014, to whom all queries should be addressed in the first instance.
This call for papers can also be downloaded in PDF format.