ARTC402-19S1 (C) Semester One 2019

Never Neutral: Museums in Context

30 points
18 Feb 2019 - 23 Jun 2019


A critical exploration of the history and theory of museums, examining some of the political and social contexts that determine their development, and the meanings inherent in practices of collecting and display.

This course offers a detailed look at the history and theory of museums. Contrary to the façade of neutrality and objectivity which many museums have sought to project, these institutions are inherently ideological, and have the capacity – whether intentionally or not – to rewrite histories accordingly. Museums have long acted as ‘gatekeepers’ – for instance, to many different kinds of art; to different cultures; to the past – and their approaches to representation fundamentally influence how ‘knowledge’ is constructed and understood. However, it is only relatively recently that museums have received extensive scrutiny as artefacts in their own right. This body of thought has foregrounded the political and social contexts which have shaped the development of museums – as well as those which are underrepresented in the narratives museums present – and has highlighted how museums function as part of civic and civil apparatus. Focusing on case studies from Australasia, Europe, and North America, the course makes use of this critical framework to examine practices of collecting, curating, and display, and to consider issues with which today’s museums are confronted.

Learning Outcomes

This course is designed to help participants develop:

+ a high level of critical thinking

+ sophisticated visual literacy skills

+ a detailed understanding of the history of museums

+ an ability to situate museums and their roles within broader contexts, such as politics, socio-economics, gender, and the law

+ a sound understanding of curatorial practice

+ familiarity with contemporary debates surrounding museums
+ skills in independent research


Subject to approval of the Programme Convenor.


ARTH417, CULT406

Equivalent Courses

Timetable 2019

Students must attend one activity from each section.

Lecture A
Activity Day Time Location Weeks
01 Wednesday 13:00 - 16:00 Karl Popper 508 18 Feb - 7 Apr
29 Apr - 2 Jun

Course Coordinator

Rosie Ibbotson


Assessment Due Date Percentage  Description
Exhibition analysis 20% (Maximum 1,500 words)
Research essay 40% (Maximum 3,000 words)
Reading journal 30% (Entries maximum 250 words each; 8 in total)
Class participation 10%


There are no 'textbooks' as such, nor is it a requirement to purchase all (or any) of these books; however, the essays they contain will be useful at various points throughout the course, and offer sound preparatory reading for those who find the time before the course starts:

Peter Vergo (ed), The new museology, London: 1989.

Marcia Pointon (ed), Art apart: art institutions and ideology across England and North America, Manchester: 1994.

Tim Barringer and Tom Flynn (eds), Colonialism and the object: empire, material culture, and the museum, London and New York: 1998.

Course links

Library portal

Indicative Fees

Domestic fee $1,939.00

* Fees include New Zealand GST and do not include any programme level discount or additional course related expenses.

For further information see Humanities and Creative Arts.

All ARTC402 Occurrences

  • ARTC402-19S1 (C) Semester One 2019