What is a museum? How are museum collections assembled? What might be problematic about non-western objects in western museums?
Prof. Dr. Patricia Plummer examines the role of museums in the 21st century and attempts to raise awareness for the representation of various cultures in museum contexts. Since the winter term 2016/17 she has offered several seminars on the topic and, as a result of their success, will continue to offer similar seminars over the course of the following semesters.
The OED simply defines a museum as a “building or institution in which objects of historical, scientific, artistic, or cultural interest are preserved and exhibited”. Although this may be their primary function, museums can have even further instructive value. Indeed, they can be “Lernorte von Diversität”, as Prof. Plummer's teaching project states, perfect places to study the impact of diversity. The aim of the seminar “Colonialism’s Heritage in Museums and Archives” (winter term 2016/17) and its successors is to find connections between Indigeneity, colonialism, decolonisation and museum collections worldwide.
During the colonial period, European travellers and scientists collected a plethora of cultural artefacts as well as human body parts from all over the world. These artefacts were transported, for instance from Australia and from African colonies, to European museums, universities and private collections to be studied and exhibited. Today, museums such as the British Museum in London or the Ethnologisches Museum in Berlin are surrounded by controversies as they still possess things and human remains that were acquired in colonial times.
How should such artefacts be dealt with? Should they be repatriated, i.e. returned, to where they were taken from? Who has the right to receive them? Would repatriation eventually make museums obsolete? The seminar encourages students to address colonialism's heritage in museums and archives in excursions, discussions and research projects.
"Lehre Divers" Scholarship
Prof. Dr. Plummer is one of three recipients of the 2016 “Lehre Divers” scholarship, awarded by the Zentrum für Hochschulqualitätsentwicklung at the University of Duisburg-Essen for the implementation of innovative teaching methods concerned with diversity. The scholarship entails material support, allowing Prof. Dr. Plummer the appointment of a research assistant, as well as cooperation with researchers and lecturers from several faculties in the form of workshops. Its aim is to renew and improve teaching at the University of Duisburg-Essen by funding innovative ways of teaching diversity.
Diversity is a complex topic which in some form or other often enters discussions on postcolonialism. Prof. Dr. Plummer’s seminar “Colonialism’s Heritage in Museums and Archives” (winter semester 2016/17), however, approached the topic from various angles, including the diversity of museum collections and the changing role of museums, diversity and multimedia presentations of museum collections, and addressing diversity in teaching and learning.