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3.5 Page, Single space Essay(Each question for 1 page),12 inch front, 1 inch margin.Questions and Sources are in the attachments. 0.5page is to answer the question “what would you say is the “value” of art historical inquiry? ”
How can you apply skills learned in this class to other classes or disciplines?(450 words)



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A major theme in this course has been discussions of identity and the politics of identity (race,
class, gender, sexuality) in the history of Western art. Please discuss the ways in which one of the
categories have impacted the development of art in the United States or Europe. Give at least 1-2
examples of an artist’s work that supports your discussion and contextualize your selected
artwork within your answer.
How has the role of the artist in Western society changed over time? What do you feel is the role
of the artist today in our contemporary world?
Image: Nanni di Banco, Sculptors in a Medieval Workshop/Guild, 1415, Marble, Florence, Italy
Using the readings and discussion presented in this course, what have scholars and historians
claimed to be the value and/or relevance of museums in our society? Using your experiences at
museums (the National Gallery), what do you feel that museums can offer to visitors?
The article professor gives us.
If you use an outside source to argue/support a point in your answers, please draw attention to
that in your sentence. You do not need to submit a Works Cited or Bibliography
Example: In TJ Clark’s text Modern Painters, the art historian states that Manet was born in Paris
to a wealthy family of bankers and diplomats. (Clark, 33-43)
Example: As Anne Wagner stated in her article “Women in Art”: “women have suffered in the
artwork due to their gender, but are making important grounds in the 21st century.” (pg. 34)
Cultural and Social History
The Journal of the Social History Society
ISSN: 1478-0038 (Print) 1478-0046 (Online) Journal homepage:
Museums, Memory and History
Graham Black
To cite this article: Graham Black (2011) Museums, Memory and History, Cultural and Social
History, 8:3, 415-427, DOI: 10.2752/147800411X13026260433275
To link to this article:
Published online: 01 May 2015.
Submit your article to this journal
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Page 415
Graham Black
Nottingham Trent University
Keywords: cultural memory, museums, multiple perspectives, audiences
Address for correspondence: Graham Black, Reader in Public History, Nottingham Trent University,
Clifton Lane, Nottingham, NG11 8NS. UK. E-mail:
Cultural and Social History, Volume 8, Issue 3, pp. 415–427 © The Social History Society 2011
DOI 10.2752/147800411X13026260433275
This essay seeks to explore the complex relationship between history museums,
memory, history and audiences. I have focused on museum practice, rather than the
theoretical discussions of, for example, Benjamin, Foucault or Nora, because it is
through practice that history and memory in the museum is constructed, mediated,
communicated and responded to.
Museums have a commitment not only to collect, conserve and document material
evidence of the past but also to make it publicly accessible. In selecting what to collect,
they define what is or is not history. In preserving their collections in perpetuity, they
act as a permanent memory store. In the way they display and interpret that material
evidence, they construct and transmit meanings. In contemporary museum display,
there is an ongoing conflict between the construction of meanings that support an
authorized collective memory, frequently linked to a linear narrative of progress, and
an ambition to act as places of pluralism and inclusion that ‘give voice to the
disenfranchised, the oppressed and the silenced’.1 Furthermore, visitors to museums are
not passive recipients. Rather, in the process of engaging with the collections and
associated interpretive material on display, visitors add new content to their existing
knowledge and understanding, and construct their own meanings. Increasing digital
access to museum collections and documentation has added further to the
democratization of meaning-making.2 History is thus selected, constructed and
transmitted by museums and then, in the process of being experienced by visitors, it is
transformed into ‘something else – their own understanding of the past, a type of
“historical sense” independent of the professional historian’s ideal’.3
Museums, Memory and History
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In Pasts beyond Memory (2004), Bennett discusses the rise and impact of the
‘evolutionary museum’ which grew out of major advances in the historical sciences –
geology, palaeontology, natural history, prehistoric archaeology and anthropology –
particularly in the mid- to late-nineteenth century. The techniques used by the
historical sciences, including stratification, rock formation and typologies, severed the
connection that restricted the past to the written record and oral tradition. The silent
voices of prehistory could be heard for the first time:
Limitless vistas of pasts going back beyond human existence, let alone memory, came
rapidly into view as the once mute traces they had left behind were made eloquent
through the application of new methods of analysis and interpretation.4
It was museum exhibition, based on evolutionary principles of classification, which
made prehistory visible. Here, museums were incubators of new understanding,
developing the rules for classification and typologies. From the same evolutionary
model came the concept of the body as a palimpsest retaining traces of past human
development, a ‘memory machine’ in its own right ‘visualised archaeologically as so
many strata superimposed one on top of the other’.5
This role of the museum as both incubator and transmitter of knowledge and
understanding was not a new development of the nineteenth century. In her book
Wondrous Curiosities, Moser explores approaches to museum display from early cabinets
of curiosity in the sixteenth century to what can be described as the ‘making’ of Ancient
Egypt, as the public understands it, through re-displays of the British Museum’s
Egyptian collections from the mid-eighteenth to the later nineteenth centuries. From
the outset, she traces a triple function for what became the public museum:
Cultural and Social History
• studying collections to develop knowledge and understanding;
• recognizing that, through defined display practices, these collections could be
endowed with the power to transmit this knowledge to a wider audience; and
• coming to understand that those same display practices enabled the
collector/scientist/curator to construct/create the very knowledge that was being
transmitted – expressing ideas and concepts not only through layout/visual effect,
but also by incorporating labels and guided tours.
Thus, the ‘geological archaeologists’ such as Pitt Rivers were maintaining an
established curatorial tradition as they sought to classify and interpret the emerging
prehistoric artefactual evidence, chiefly through the development and sequencing of
typologies based on both newly uncovered material and the reassembling of existing
collections. But this classificatory, typological approach to studying the past had severe
limitations, ones that can still be witnessed in many archaeological exhibits today.
Viewed and displayed purely as abstract evidence – objects as objective accounts of the
past – these collections give a very limited insight into the past, devoid of the memory
of the people who made and used them and existing only in an artificially created
archaeological time frame.
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The alternatives to this approach involved and involve:
Museum definitions of culture seek to take account of the full range of human
experience and activity, incorporating much that is ‘handed down, learned, taught,
researched, interpreted and practiced’.9 Its outward manifestations will include both
social practices and physical evidence, but it is specific types of ‘material culture’ –
particularly inorganic physical remains including buildings and many smaller objects –
that most readily survive to reflect past cultures and that continue to represent core
elements of modern society. Until recent decades, it was largely these types of material
culture that museums collected, preserved and stored, rather than ‘culture’ itself.
Re-experiencing objects as the touchable memory of past societies
There is a long-established association of memory with preservation and storage. It is
in this sense that the museum can be seen as much more than a typological collection
of evidence of past time frames; rather, it is the storehouse and protector of the memory
of humankind, through the objects held, documented and cared for in its collections.
Objects – and I use this term in the broadest sense – are the ‘only class of historical
events that occurred in the past but survive into the present. They can be reexperienced; they are authentic, primary historical material.’8 Such objects represent
the visible and touchable outer world of the memory of past societies – a cultural
memory that can last thousands of years but is also relevant to recent times. As firsthand memory disappears, the objects made and used even in the recent past shape our
views. Thus museums become places where culture, history and memory meet. But
they meet in a form mediated through the process of selection, collection, preservation
and display.
Museums, Memory and History
Seeking contemporary parallels to past societies for comparison
At the time of the development of evolutionary museums, prehistoric archaeology and
anthropology were seen as distinguishable mainly, as Bennett puts it, ‘in terms of their
spatial distribution’: ‘the one was applied “over here” to the prehistory of Europe, the
other “over there” to the interpretation of the prehistoric “past within the present”
represented by colonised peoples’.6
Thus distant peoples were viewed as living memories of the long-distant past, ‘static
and without history’,7 somewhere near the bottom layers of the archaeological strata
that made up modern man. As such, races could be ranked hierarchically depending on
the degree of historical depth they were accorded, and an assessment of their capacity
for evolutionary self-development. In this context, Western middle and upper class
males came top, with Australian aboriginals bottom. Thus museums, in playing a
pivotal role in establishing the concept of prehistory and in using the Darwinian model
to develop classification systems and typologies to effectively segment time and plot
change over time, also developed and exhibited the concept of the progressive Western
male and the static ‘Other’ who could be studied to give Westerners direct access to the
likely lives of their prehistoric predecessors.
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As Crane points out, in collecting these objects, museums not only store cultural
memory; they are also directly involved in creating and manipulating it: ‘Preservation
in the museum fixes the memory of entire cultures through representative objects by
selecting what “deserves” to be kept, remembered, treasured.’10
Through exhibitions, programming and other means of transmission, museums
actively define and represent cultural memory:
being displayed means being incorporated into the extra-institutional memory of the
museum visitors … a notion of memory objectified, not belonging to any one
individual so much as to audiences, publics, collectives, and nations, and represented
via the museum collections.11
In this sense, you could say that the study of cultural memory moves away from the
historian’s concern with the past to a contemporary exploration of how the past is
represented, or not represented, and transmitted in the present. As such, objects serve
cultural memory in a number of ways:
Cultural and Social History
a) Objects that are created for their memory role, or have that role foisted upon them
These include: those directly associated with rites and ceremonies and customs,
themselves linked to memory; those produced directly as commemoratives (of
individuals or events) or souvenirs (of places); and those collected or retained, by
individuals or communities, for the memories they are associated with, from family
heirlooms to the darkest of events. In terms of commemoratives, for example, Kwint
notes that approximately one tenth of the decorative goods that first began to appear
in English plebeian households during the seventeenth century consisted of
commemorative plates, mugs and jugs marking national and family events from the
Civil War onwards.12 In contemporary society, the house key has become one of the
most poignant of objects the world over, symbolic of the refugee’s desire to return
b) Objects that trigger remembering
When people use museums, they bring their life experiences with them. Often, their
encounter with objects in the museum brings back vivid recollections, halfremembered places and emotions which would otherwise have remained forgotten. It
is a commonplace for such memories to be discussed amongst the social or family
group taking part in the visit. From the exhibits encountered, and the memories evoked
and shared, new meanings are made. In discussing the triggering of such memories,
Kavanagh speaks of the museum as a ‘dream space’:
many things might tumble through our minds: bits of songs, half-written shopping
lists, things left unsaid. The shape or shadow of something, its texture or colour, the
operation of space and people moving through it can be triggers to an endless range of
personal associations … We have to accept more fully the imagination, emotions,
senses and memories as vital components of the experience of museums.13
These memories and meanings arise not as a result of only visual access to museum
collections but also from other forms of access. The importance of smell in provoking
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memory has long been understood. Recent research reflects the increasing
understanding of the complexity of the tactile memory system we operate under and
the impact that touching objects can have on bringing memories to mind.14 The
opportunity to handle, explore and experience objects has also become part of good
practice in reminiscence work, relating to aspects of remembered life experience.15
From experiences on museum visits to organized group reminiscence sessions, there is
substantial and growing evidence of museum objects as triggers of individual
d) Objects that retain evidence of the craft traditions that produced them
I am referring here to the retention of cultural memory across generations through the
continuation of cultural and craft practice – the passing on of traditional skills and
techniques, acquired in turn by each new practitioner through watching craftsmen,
practising under their guidance and studying examples of their craft.17 In the case of
the latter, the object memory lives on after the maker and user and becomes a vital link
to the craft in its own right. Today many of these objects are held in museums, a
reflection of the value society places on the established usages of our communities. But
museums are also proactive in retaining and promoting craft skills.
The role of the museum as the memory of humankind can be particularly important
for societies that could be described as ‘intangible cultures’ (because they are nonliterate and where almost all the material forms of cultural expression are made from
organic biological materials that disappear over time, particularly in tropical climates).
For example, Pacific museums, through their regional organization the Pacific Islands
Museums Association, include amongst their key functions the protection and
promotion of traditional art forms and cultures and preserving the region’s material
But museums do more than seek to preserve tradition. They also, through their
collections, establish when and how that tradition is overturned. The material culture of
the prehistoric and early historic world is characterized by long-lasting styles. Since then
we have seen both an increasing speed of change and rapidly growing volumes in which
material culture is present. Assman suggests that the key moment of change occurred
with the invention of writing, when he believes the prioritization of tradition was
replaced by a measure of what could be added that was new and individual.19 Crowley
Museums, Memory and History
c) Objects that reflect the society and culture that produced them
A core objective in the study of historical objects, or ‘material culture’, is to better
understand the societies/cultures within which they were made and used.16 Such
objects evoke a sense of time, place and society beyond individual memory and can
play a powerful role in defining a community’s memories of its collective past, its social
practices, its attitudes and beliefs, etc. In terms of defining and transmitting cultural
memory, the issue is not what memories these objects hold but rather which memories/
meanings are selected for transmission and how the selection process works. The
central criticism of museums in this regard is that this process is geared to presenting a
single, authoritative view of the past – that of the elite. I will return to this later, in
discussing collective memory.
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Cultural and Social History
in his The Invention of Comfort links major developments in material culture in Western
society to changing ideas of physical well-being in the post-Reformation world.20
e) Museum collections as self-conscious memory
Edge and Weiner point to critics of the first museums, such as Hegel and Quatremere
de Quincy, who ‘complained that instead of preserving history, the museum would
destroy it’ by taking objects out of their daily existence and out of context, thereby
removing their authenticity and institutionalizing them. ‘Placed in the foreign context
of the museum, the objects are meaningless caricatures. The museum then attests to the
failure of the present to construct a reasonable relationship with the past.’21
The critics have not gone away. Such concerns are reflected, for example, in the
writings of Adorno,22 and particularly in Nora’s work,23 where he seeks to make a
distinction between self-consciously created places of memory and authentic
‘environments of memory’, describing museums, memorials and archives as ‘prosthetic
artefacts to replace natural connections to reality’.24 Like Bennett,25 I am sceptical of
Nora’s authentic lieux de mémoires and doubt that collective memory was ever
spontaneous. However, the comparatively recent rise of the ecomuseum, embedded in
and part of its community, is one response by the history museum profession to this
criticism of removal from context.26 Often such museums also promote consciousnessraising within communities, engaging people with past traditions. We can see this also,
for example, in the rise of Native American tribal museums in the USA. But even here
the construction of cultural memory continues apace. A conservative focus on religion,
ceremony and tradition at the National Museum of the American Indian, since its
founding in 1989, has downplayed other as …
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