Appel à communication : « Transnational History of Museums »

Temple of muses, custodian of cultural heritage, site of memory, space
for the mediation of taste and knowledge: The functions of the museum
are manifold and are given different emphases, depending on the type of
museum and the disciplinary outlook. However, the argument that the
institution is a major venue for the construction of national identity
has recurred again and again since the first royal collections were
opened to the public around the middle of the eighteenth century.
Indeed, the number of museum foundations was particularly high in
Europe during the nineteenth century, when the modern nation-state was
being established. Yet the tight linkage between nation-building and
the birth of public collections has increasingly been called into
question by recent scholarly work on the history of museums. Instead,
local traditions have been stressed or international comparisons have
been drawn upon in order to explain policies of collecting, the display
of exhibits or the architectural design of individual galleries.

The aim of the planned conference is to go beyond the national
framework in analyzing the institution of the museum. It offers an
invitation to reflect from a transnational perspective upon the
purposes and concepts of museums, museum practices, and the perception
of museum culture. Which models from abroad were imported by museum
representatives in order to give their own collections a certain
profile? To what extent were “foreign” principles of order and hanging
appropriated? Can the international networks on which museum experts
relied be reconstructed? How can we describe the activities of
commissions that were assigned to explore the organisation of museums
beyond their geographic borders? Did an internationally inspired taste
have any influence on the planning, the architectural settings or the
compositions of collections? Do documents such as letters, travelogues
or diaries written by museum visitors give concrete indications of a
comparative, transnational perception?

Central to the conference is the discussion of the museum as a space
of, even product of, cross-border processes of exchange and transfer.
Seen from this angle, an examination of the museum of art, in
particular, is to be carried out, also taking into account
archaeological and historico-cultural collections, arts and crafts
museums and the so-called universal museums inside and outside of
Europe. Chronologically, the conference sets in around 1750, at that
point in history when there was a gathering momentum of the crucial
characteristics of the modern museum of art still familiar today:
public access, an independent exhibition space or building, the
application of scientific principles of order, or didactic aspirations.
A second chronological benchmark ? before the caesura of World War II ?
is the conference that took place in Madrid in 1934. For the first
time, museum experts from all over the world came together and thus
made the museum, as such, very literally the pivotal subject of intense
international discussion.

The conference will be held on Friday, February 17, and Saturday,
February 18, 2012 at the Technische Universität Berlin.

Please submit proposals of about 1.000 characters for papers not
exceeding 30 minutes by June 15, 2011 to Prof. Dr. Bénédicte Savoy
( or Dr. Andrea Meyer
( Languages of the conference are German,
English and French.


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