CoursesWhy Museums?: The Politics of Preservation
WRIT 0021

Why Museums?: The Politics of Preservation

Museums’ foundational purpose – to represent heritage through collections, preservation, and visual presentation – are now questioned. Museums are being called upon, in the words of Decolonize Latinx, to “name anti-Black racism and begin the work of establishing new practices that resist and reject white supremacy.”

Some museums have begun repatriating ill-gotten or stolen materials, for instance, as seen with Brown University’s Haffenreffer Museum’s ongoing project to return over 80 indigenous remains and artifacts to the Hopi people.

The class will explore how such institutions are — or should be — responding to calls for change, critically examining cultural exchanges occurring in museums.

We will open with Michael Murawski’s Museums as Agents of Change (2021), which studies how museums replicate conditions as well as respond to mounting critiques.

Students’ research will investigate how these critiques are being put into practice and how the futures of museums might be reimagined. The course will entail on-site interviews with museum professionals about how they perceive the longevity of transformative practices.

This is an SNF Paideia-designated writing seminar, designed to examine and encourage dialogue across differences. Students and faculty participating in the Paideia writing seminar cluster will have an opportunity to meet once a month for dinner, dialogue, and a keynote speaker or facilitator, as well as engage in other cross seminar community building activities. SNF Paideia-designated courses are noted on student transcripts. This seminar fulfills the writing requirement, follows the same curriculum, and has the same workload, assessment process, and standards as all other critical writing seminars at Penn. Seminar topics vary in academic discipline but each relates back to the SNF Paideia program’s core values of informed civil discourse and deliberation.

Only first-year students are eligible to enroll in SNF Paideia-designated writing seminars.

Instructor: Kathleen Kramer

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