Museums at the Crossroads: Local Knowledge, Global Encounters

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November 15, 2014 - 5:00 pm CFP Deadline

Museums at the Crossroads: Local Knowledge, Global Encounters
May 14-21, 2015

The Indiana University Mathers Museum of World Cultures and School of Global and International Studies invite applications for up to eight Museum Partners who will take part in an innovative international workshop on the future of museums of culture and history. The call for applications for Museums at the Crossroads: Local Knowledge, Global Encounters closes November 15, 2014.

About Museums at the Crossroads

Museums at the Crossroads connects theory and practice, bridging institutional, regional, and national museum contexts in order to advance the global conversation around museums and generate a range of practical outcomes for its participants.
Workshop participants will include:
  • 4 international fellows from innovative museums around the globe 
  • 8 museum partners drawn from museums and other institutions in the United States and abroad
  • 12 Indiana University faculty, staff, and graduate students 
  • 4 keynote speakers, each addressing a broader social and cultural theme that we wish to explore in depth in museum contexts. 
Our keynote speakers are: 
  • Steven Lubar, Brown University (keynote on Today’s Museum: Innovation, Change, and Challenge)
  • Michael Brown, School for Advanced Research (keynote on Cultural Crossroads: World Cultures in Transition)
  • Stephan Fuchs, University of Virginia (keynote on Disciplinary Crossroads: The Evolving Sociology of Knowledge)
  • Haidy Geismar, University College London (keynote on Artifactual Crossroads: Real Meets Virtual) 

Across the world, as academically based scholars of social and cultural theory graft new shoots onto the older disciplinary roots of their work, their counterparts in the museum are drawing new meaning from the artifacts and images that fill their galleries and storerooms. This project leverages Indiana University's resources in both humanities scholarship and museum practice to bring those groups together-marrying global theorists with practitioners of learning in localized, sensory environments, and asking what each can teach the other about the ties that join world cultures.

Today's international museum professionals--many of them working in institutions whose missions and collections still reflect that institution's Enlightenment-era faith in categorization, hierarchy, empiricism, and disciplinary clarity--must navigate their way through a series of challenges to the very relevance of their work. Which way will they turn through these crossroads?

For the purpose of this program, we identify three such crossroads as particularly pertinent to the ongoing vitality of museums as places of learning and discovery:

Cultural Crossroads: the challenge of understanding interconnected, global cultures that are no longer easily categorized, as they were in the era in which many of the world's most prominent museums came into being, along a traditional normative scale ranging from "civilized" to "primitive"

Disciplinary Crossroads: the challenge of adapting institutions steeped in disciplinary tradition (as sites for the practice of history, anthropology, natural history, etc.) to the new work of scholarly disciplines increasingly inclined to draw upon one another's methods and sources in their shared pursuit of understanding of the human condition

Artifactual Crossroads: the challenge of adapting to the blurred lines that now separate traditionally defined categories of "virtual" and "real" in our encounters with the material world

The challenge faced by museums--such as the Mathers--that seek to understand global culture is, in other words, no longer simply one of ensuring global coverage. It is instead to restore to the museum the vibrancy, nimbleness, and sense of opportunity that led scholars, curators, and their audiences alike to see in places such as the Smithsonian (or, more than a century later, the MMWC) the genuine opportunity for both the discovery ("increase") and teaching ("diffusion") of new knowledge about the world.

Others are facing this challenge already. Museum scholars and practitioners have considered elements of these problems in conferences, exhibitions, and published research. Nowhere, however, have we seen our crossroads defined as discrete elements of a single, common challenge: that of making museums-localized sites of interaction among humans and material artifacts-work in a world increasingly characterized by abstract social relationships and immaterial experiences. Such a challenge requires intellectual tools beyond those traditionally employed within the professional world of museums, just as it demands a level of engagement-with artifacts and with audiences-beyond that commonly associated with scholars in the academy.

Museums at the Crossroads accomplishes its goals through an eight-day program of workshops, tours, charrettes, and social interactions among its participants. The result of their collaboration will be threefold:

For IU: The institute yields a set of program or exhibition proposals, based on the MMWC's mission and collections, intended to maximize the museum's future impact on research and teaching within the College, the SGIS, and across the campus.

For conference attendees' home institutions: The institute results in a corresponding "take-home" project based on two shared questions designed to force these local sites into a global dialogue: "What can your museum teach the world?" and "What can your museum learn from the world?" Through additional fundraising and intellectual collaboration beyond the initial grant period, we hope to realize these projects and link them to one another through virtual sites or traveling components.

For the larger community of scholars and practitioners: The work of the institute and its follow-on projects will be documented in diverse publishing venues, including Museum Anthropology Review, the MMWC's peer-reviewed, open access journal. Published materials deriving from the institute will include a publicly and permanently available (via IUScholarWorks Repository) project report authored by the principal investigators in cooperation with campus faculty participants.

This project has been made possible by the School of Global and International Studies, Indiana University.