Liberal Arts

History and Theory of Museums

This course is an introduction to the history and theory of museums. It analyzes the forms and meanings of museums seen in different times and cultures through several critical perspectives.

Department of Museum Studies
History and Theory of Museums
Instructor: Marzia Minore

Course Description
Starting from the practice of collecting in Renaissance Italy, we will consider the birth of public museums in the 18th century, the development of these institutions in connection with the identity of the nation state, the contestant of museum authority and the birth of a “new museology“ founded on a participative approach. We will investigate the peculiar history and features of museums in Italy, and their connection with the cultural landscape of historical towns. Siena and Tuscany offer a great number and variety of museum collections of historical importance, thus field visits will be an important part of the course, and will offer the possibility of in-depth analysis. Italian case studies will be the starting point for international comparisons, showing the diversity of what a museum can be today. Different kinds of museums will be studied, from small local collections to global attractions, from Science Centres to art and archaeological exhibitions. For each case, we will analyze how objects are selected, displayed and interpreted, and how they interact with the museums architecture, investigating the theoretical and ideological assumptions beyond. Crucial questions posed to museums today will be discussed, such as the ownership of cultural artifacts, the relation between museums and communities, and the globalization and commodification of heritage.

Learning Outcomes
· To provoke students into questioning what a museum is and does, and what it can be.
· To gain a thorough knowledge of history of collecting and museums, with a focus on Italy and Tuscany.
· To be able to analyze with a critical eye museum exhibitions of different kind.
· To provide the broader historical and theoretical context essential to enable students to engage critically with contemporary museum practice, and to work in galleries, museums and other cultural institutions.

Instructor's contact
Office Hours: after class or by appointment


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