The growing interdisciplinarity of research, and the important input of social sciences to historical research in particular, have renewed the questionnaire through which history, museums and objects are interrogated. The fact that history is socially constructed and that it encloses several dimensions is hardly questioned anymore. In short, there is not one established history. Rather, historical knowledge can be seen as a flow which is constantly moving and changing according to time, space and society. Similarly, the way we relate to objects is also not stable across time, space or social groups.

We argue that the contextualisation of objects in permanent exhibitions is challenging. First, because it is physically impossible to render all the information relevant to the understanding of the object. Second, we believe museums have a responsibility in delivering a vision of the world which is complex and triggers thinking. Third, more worryingly, there can also be influence from  political agendas applied to museums, especially where there is national or public funding. This also raises the question of museum independence with regards to political / power instances.

A primary question this session wants to look into is: how do museums use permanent exhibitions to produce historical knowledge?



The session can be organised around the following questions:

  • How can museums become places to actively think historically with objects?
  • Is there a ‘museum history’ and an ‘academic history’?
  • How problematic can decontextualisation be? Why is historicisation of objects important?
  • Objects are historical and social products: how do they change in time and how can it be exhibited in practical terms?
  • How can a museum guarantee / be guaranteed independence with regards to institutional and political context while it remains a major instrument of political propaganda?