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Seminar "The Museum Landscape of the PRC and Taiwan: Worldmaking and the Production of Knowledge"

This seminar offered an overview over the vast museum landscape of the PRC and Taiwan and introduced key concepts and methodologies of museology and museum studies.

The course introduced a wide range of museums, approaching history museums, natural science museums, and literary museum alike, inviting students to reflect on museums ranging from military museums to fine arts museums. Museums dedicated to contested historical periods (the Cultural Revolution in the PRC and the Period of White Terror in Taiwan) were analyzed, to the representation of minorities (from displays of aboriginal cultures in Taiwan’s National Museum of Natural Science to sacred sites in Uyghur history located in today’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region), as well as examine museums dedicated to simultaneously venerated and contested individual historical figures (such as Mao Zedong’s Memorial Hall in Beijing and Chiang Kai-Shek’s Memorial Hall in Taibei).

Analyzing the museums’ collections and displays, the seminar asked how institutions produce knowledge, how history is (re)written in these spaces, and how museums become part in processes of worldmaking, be it in creating (political) world orders or in shaping our understanding of what we know as fact and agree to be knowledge. By drawing on theories from global history (Conrad 2016) and global art history (Juneja 2018), a transdisciplinary dialogue with the field of China Studies is created, in which museums are often primarily viewed in their political, instrumental function. A close reading of the museum displays searched for insights both into the production and (intended) reception of these spaces and historical and archive materials of past museum displays showed how the museum’s messages and the worlds these museums created changed over time, revealing that museums do not merely display but actively create the world we know.

Dates: February 4, 11, 18 & 19, 2022; 10am-7pm

Lecturer: Emily Mae Graf (A Translingual Conceptual History of Chinese Worlds)