ARTH417-23S1 (C) Semester One 2023

Never Neutral: Museums in Context

30 points

Start Date: Monday, 20 February 2023
End Date: Sunday, 25 June 2023
Withdrawal Dates
Last Day to withdraw from this course:
  • Without financial penalty (full fee refund): Sunday, 5 March 2023
  • Without academic penalty (including no fee refund): Sunday, 14 May 2023


A critical exploration of the history and theory of museums, examining some of the political and social contexts that determine their development, and the meanings and narratives constructed through practices of collecting and display.

This course offers a detailed look at the history and theory of museums. Contrary to the façade of neutrality and objectivity which many museums have sought to project, these institutions are inherently ideological, and have the capacity – whether intentionally or not – to rewrite histories accordingly. Museums have long acted as ‘gatekeepers’ – for instance, to many different kinds of art; to different cultures; to the past – and their approaches to representation fundamentally influence how ‘knowledge’ is constructed and understood. However, it is only relatively recently that museums have received extensive scrutiny as artefacts in their own right. This body of thought has foregrounded the political and social contexts which have shaped the development of museums – as well as those which are underrepresented in the narratives museums present – and has highlighted how museums function as part of civic and civil apparatus. Focusing on case studies from Australasia, Europe, and North America, the course makes use of this critical framework to examine practices of collecting, curating, and display, and to consider issues with which today’s museums are confronted.

Learning Outcomes

This course is designed to help participants develop:
- a high level of critical thinking
- sophisticated visual literacy skills
- a detailed understanding of the history of museums
- an ability to situate museums and their roles within broader contexts, such as politics, socio-
  economics, gender, and the law
- a sound understanding of curatorial practice
- familiarity with contemporary debates surrounding museums
- skills in independent research

University Graduate Attributes

This course will provide students with an opportunity to develop the Graduate Attributes specified below:

Critically competent in a core academic discipline of their award

Students know and can critically evaluate and, where applicable, apply this knowledge to topics/issues within their majoring subject.

Biculturally competent and confident

Students will be aware of and understand the nature of biculturalism in Aotearoa New Zealand, and its relevance to their area of study and/or their degree.

Globally aware

Students will comprehend the influence of global conditions on their discipline and will be competent in engaging with global and multi-cultural contexts.


Subject to approval of the Head of Department.


CULT406 and ARTC402

Equivalent Courses

Course Coordinator

Richard Bullen


Assessment Due Date Percentage  Description
Class participation 10%
Reading journal 30% (Entries maximum 250 words each; 8 in total)
Exhibition analysis 20% (Maximum 1,500 words)
Research essay 40% (Maximum 3,000 words)

Please check the course LEARN page for further details and updates.

Textbooks / Resources

There are no 'textbooks' as such, nor is it a requirement to purchase all (or any) of these books; however, the essays they contain will be useful at various points throughout the course, and offer sound preparatory reading for those who find the time before the course starts:

Peter Vergo (ed), The new museology, London: 1989.
Marcia Pointon (ed), Art apart: art institutions and ideology across England and North America, Manchester: 1994.
Tim Barringer and Tom Flynn (eds), Colonialism and the object: empire, material culture, and the museum, London and New York: 1998.

Course links

Library portal

Indicative Fees

Domestic fee $1,990.00

* All fees are inclusive of NZ GST or any equivalent overseas tax, and do not include any programme level discount or additional course-related expenses.

For further information see Humanities .

All ARTH417 Occurrences

  • ARTH417-23S1 (C) Semester One 2023