The Museum Studies Minor has launched several new initiatives for the AY21-22. Chief among these is the inaugural MSminor Colloquium, which is scheduled for noon for November 5, 2021, and will feature lightning talks on recent student internships and campus museum engagement. The selected internships beautifully showcase the interdisciplinary nature of the MSminor with students reflecting on their placements at the UM Museum of Art, UM Museum of Natural History, UM William L. Clements Library, the Detroit Historical Society, and the Penn Museum in Philadelphia. (It is worth noting that these students represent home departments including American Culture, Art History, Biochemistry, and Political Science here at UM.) At the colloquium we will be joined by a recent MSminor alumna, Lydia Plescher (Environment, ’21), who is a Museum Associate at the Appalachian Forest Discovery Center in Elkins, West Virginia. The colloquium provides an opportunity for students in the minor to share in their museum-centered work and experiences and will, as a happy by-product of these exchanges, strengthen our Museum Studies community. Prospective students have been invited to join the virtual event to explore the minor. The current plan is to host a MSminor Colloquium each semester.
In addition to the colloquium, several other initiatives are underway. Plans are currently taking shape for a MSminor e-newsletter with hopes for a first issue in January 2022. Several students have expressed interest in spearheading this effort and an editor will be named soon. The newsletter launch will include the announcement of the new Museum Studies Minor logo competition winner – a new graphic identity that will broadcast the energy, excitement, and promise of our program. Finally, the MSminor is delighted to welcome cultural historian Dr. Sanne Ravensbergen to our program. For a glimpse at the course she is teaching this fall, see below.
Course Spotlight – Sanne Ravensbergen
“Colonialism, Museum Collections, and Repatriation”, a fall 2021 seminar in the Museum Studies Minor, follows the traces of European colonization in museums around the world. We started our conversations at the beginning of this semester by bringing objects to class from our daily lives that remind us of colonialism. This led to reflecting on the immediacy of colonialism—its pasts and presents—and how certain aspects are invisible to some and painfully visible and very tangible to others. Then, we explored how colonial collections, and entire colonial museums, came into being. By carefully tracing this history from its early-modern roots until the present-day, from “scientific raids” and the spoils of war, from the Parthenon marbles, the Benin bronzes, to Balinese gold, we sought to understand how abruptly and violently objects were made “diasporic”. We emphasized the practices and ideas of obtaining, collecting and looting artifacts in the colonial context and the important role of protest, grassroots movements, demands by indigenous experts, and postcolonial countries in framing current discussions about return in Europe and North America. Here we sought to understand legal and extra-legal frameworks, ideas about collective ownership, human rights and customary law that have shaped these questions of repatriation, return, digitization and decolonization. This has entailed charting a diverse itinerary of museums from UMMAA in Ann Arbor, to the Aceh museum in Indonesia, the Tropenmuseum in Amsterdam, the Haida Heritage Centre in Canada, and the Asian Civilisations Museum in Singapore. Through these case studies we ask: who are the rightful owners of these objects? What does it mean to decolonize a museum? Is this even possible? The students enrolled in this class not only reflect on these questions in their final assignment, but also design a museum exhibit and that outlines best practices for repatriation and ethically engaging museum collections. I cannot wait to see how their projects, often close to their own life experiences or the places where they grew up, will develop further.