European Commission - 7th Framework Programme European Museums and Libraries in/of the age of migrations last updated: February 2015

Beyond Modernity. Do Ethnography Museums Need Ethnography?

18-10 April 2012

Rome, Italy | Museo Nazionale Preistorico Etnografico L. Pigorini



European Project "RIME" (Ethnography Museums & World Cultures) International ColloquiumDedicated to the memory of Ivan Karp


Before the Nineteenth century, ethnographic collections were testimonies of first encounters between our culture and the others, alimenting a fascination for the exotic to which ethnography museums owed their initial success. Later, cultural evolutionism interpreted the dichotomy between "us" and the "others" in terms of a"primitive/modern" opposition that sustained an Eurocentric identity. The process of decolonization, however, has changed the statute of our museums, and postcolonial issues have progressively challenged our institutions to focus on intercultural dialogue.
Today's global processes and the tensions accompanying new migrations force the museum to enter the social and political arena as a protagonist. Specific tools for an operational interpretation of such contemporary landscapewhere "second encounters" between multicultural publics and ethnography museums pair the more "traditional" ones with "source communities" – are still to be designed. Moreover, such important challenges find museums in times of a general cultural and economic crisis.
This international colloquium is based on an analytical reassessment of the "first encounters" phase of ethnographic museography, and it aims at sharing reflections on its legacy for the contemporary politics of museum representation, in the light of the global crisis that our institutions face today.
Half a century ago, William Sturtevant asked himself: "Does anthropology need museums?" Starting with an open debate on the current perspectives on ethnographic museography and on the significance of our institutions' recent routeswhich, in many cases, respond to the various instances of contemporary society – we wish to ask ourselves: Do ethnographic museums need ethnography?


  • Introductory session - Museums Facing Contemporary Challenges
  • Session 1 - Ethnography Museums: New Missions and Work in Progress
  • Session 2 - Between Past and Present: Museums, Collections, Representations
  • Session 3 - Issues and Problems for the 21st Century. Do Ethnographic Museums Need Ethnography



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