Call for Papers: Defining the Museum of the 21st Century: Evolving Multiculturalism in Museums in the United States

A Symposium Organized and Hosted by the International Committee for Museology and Southern New Hampshire University's History/Public History Program 

Online: September 14, 2018 

Primary contact: Dr. Yun Shun Susie Chung,

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The International Council of Museums (ICOM) has called for a new definition of "museum" for the 21st century world.[1] In response, the International Committee for Museology (ICOFOM) has hosted symposia around the world to discuss and debate local perspectives on the museum as an institution and on the practices of museology.[2] These symposia have sparked debate and discussion about the definition of "museum" in France, China, Argentina, Brazil, and the United Kingdom. On September 14, 2018, ICOFOM and Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) will host the latest symposium to discuss and define the "museum" from the perspective of the United States. This symposium will include three themes:

1. Nation-Building in Museums in the United States

The United States began as a colony of immigrants who seized land from the native peoples, but it has evolved into a multicultural nation that is, for the most part and with some exceptions, welcoming to people from around the world. What does it mean to be a “nation” in such a historical context, and how do museums help play a role in defining the nation? How will that role change for museums in the 21st century? How can the new ICOM definition of “museum” address the political, legal, administrative, and funding issues of the museum in a nation with different state and local laws, ordinances, and standards?

2. Collecting Tangible and Intangible Heritage in Museums in the United States

Since the 18th century, literary and philosophical society museums have moved beyond the gentlemanly collection of artificialia and naturalia, and there is widespread debate about what types of artifacts and naturfacts museums should collect and display and what types should be deaccessioned. How should museums prioritize physical and digital artifacts and naturfacts in the 21st century United States? How should museums handle intangible or digital artifacts and naturfacts such as oral histories and Living Human Treasures?[3] Will physical museums continue to exist, or will we someday see only online collections of artifacts and naturfacts? In examining this theme, consider which types of collections, if any, should be included in the new ICOM definition of "museum," with respect to preservation and research.

3. Serving Nearby Heritage for All in Museums in the United States

What is the relationship between museums and their local communities? Who are the stakeholders in the presentation of local heritage as well as regional heritage? What does it mean for a museum to be “inclusive”? How do museums incorporate visitor experiences and categories into museum functions? In the 21st century, how have museums dealt with contestation, ethnicity, gender, race, religion, and social status through programs and exhibits? Should museums be venues for open forums to address these complex issues in the community? What role should the broader public and other stakeholders play in the design and interpretation of exhibits, programming, events, and communication in 21st century museums? How should ICOM's new definition of "museum" reflect these issues?

ICOFOM and SNHU invite interested museologists to submit abstracts for papers and presentations on these topics for an online symposium to be held on September 14, 2018. These presentations will form the foundation for the discussion of the changing role of the museum in the United States. This will be the first symposium hosted completely online, with live streaming of all events. The final results of all of the international symposia will be published in digital form and will inform ICOM's new definition of the museum in the 21st century.

Potential presenters are invited to read through the ICOFOM Study Series and the online publications from previous symposia for background information, museological historiography, relevant concepts and theories, and inspiration for further discussion.

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