28243 - Museum Anthropology (1) (LM)

Academic Year 2023/2024

Learning outcomes

At the end of the course, the student will learn tools and advanced methodological skills to critically analiyze the main approaches to museum collections and patrimonialization processes. He/she will also be able to apply such skills in projects aimed at heritage valorization. He/she will employ an appropriate language to foster the public fruition of heritage.

Course contents

Museums and Others’ Things

The first part of the course will resume the main phases of the history of collecting and museums since the early modern age. A specific attention will be devoted to collections of extra-European artifacts, to their various forms of colonial appropriation, to the forms of display and their relationship with the main anthropological schools, as well as to the forms of knowledge elicited by the interaction between objects and social actors in the Italian and European context.

A second part of the course will be devoted to analyze the functions of the museum (conservation, catalogue, research, display, etc.) and the transformations that museums experienced in recent years, increasingly required to become a forum or arena where to foster the intercultural dialogue.

A specific attention will be devoted to the processes of decolonization which many anthropological museums are currently undergoing, often pressed by the radical critiques put forward by global social movements. Such processes led to practices such as repatriations, shared curation and other forms of interaction with source communities, including those in diasporic contexts.

The last section of the course will deal with the problematic relationship between the increasing emphasis put on the intangible dimension of heritage – paired by an increasing perception of museum collections as mere colonial burdens – and the so-called “material turn” in the humanities, which brought back materiality at the center of contemporary anthropological scrutiny. Practices such as the study of the cultural biography of things, the interdisciplinary analysis of their material dimension, and new form of knowledge sharing will be explored in order to envision new forms of “care” of museum collections and to provide students with tools useful to tackle the study of actual collections and museums.


All students, including non-attending ones, are required to read the following texts which will be discussed during the oral exam:

  • Collection of articles and book chapters which composes the weekly syllabus (see below, “Teaching methods”). The collection will be uploaded in pdf format among the teaching materials of the course before the beginning of the lessons.
  • Lattanzi, Vito, Musei e antropologia, Carocci, Roma, 2021.


Attending students will choose ONE book from the following list:

Non-attending students will choose TWO books from the following list:

  • Clemente, Pietro e Emanuela Rossi, Il terzo principio della museografia. Antropologia, contadini, musei, Carocci, Roma, 1999.
  • Grechi, Giulia, Decolonizzare il museo. Mostrazioni, pratiche artistiche, sguardi incarnati, Mimesis, Milano, 2021.
  • Guermandi, Maria Pia, Decolonizzare il patrimonio. L'Europa, L'Italia e un passato che non passa, Castelvecchi, Roma, 2021.
  • Karp, Ivan e Steven D. Lavine (a cura di), Culture in mostra. Poetiche e politiche dell’allestimento museale, CLUEB, Bologna, 1995.
  • Paini, Anna e Matteo Aria, La densità delle cose. Oggetti ambasciatori tra Oceania e Europa, Pacini, Pisa, 2014.
  • Turci, Roberta, Le voci, le opere e le cose. La catalogazione dei beni culturali demoetnoantropologici, Istituto Centrale per il Catalogo e la Documentazione, 2018. Scaricabile gratuitamente: http://www.iccd.beniculturali.it/getFile.php?id=6457
  • Stocking, George, Gli oggetti e gli altri. Saggi sui musei e la cultura materiale, Ei Editori, Roma, 2000.

Further readings:

The following books are not to be read for the exam. They are listed here as suggestions for students willing to further explore some of the topics discussed during the course.

  • Ames, Michael M., Cannibal Tours and Glass Boxes. The Anthropology of Museums, UBC Press, Vancouver and Toronto, 1992.
  • Amselle, Jean-Loup, Il Museo in scena. L’alterità culturale e la sua rappresentazione negli spazi espositivi, Meltemi, Milano, 2017.
  • Barringer, Tim, and Ton Flynn (eds.), Colonialism and the Object. Empire, Material Culture and the Museum, Routledge, London, 1998.
  • Bennett, Tony, Museums, Power, Knowledge. Selected essays, Routledge, New York, 2018.
  • Bennett, Tony et al., Collecting, Ordering, Governing. Anthropology, Museums, and Liberal Government, Duke University Press, Durham and London, 2017.
  • Bleichmar, Daniela and Peter C. Mancall, Collecting Across Cultures. Material Exchanges in the Early Modern Atlantic World, University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia, 2011.
  • Bodei, Remo, La vita delle cose, Laterza, Roma-Bari, 2009.
  • Bredekamp, Horst, Nostalgia dell’antico e fascino della macchina. La storia della Kunstkammer e il futuro della storia dell’arte, Il Saggiatore, Milano, 2016.
  • Bouquet, Mary (ed.), Academic Anthropology and the Museum. Back to the Future, New York-Oxford, Bergahn Books, 2006.
  • Ciabarri, Luca, La cultura materiale. Oggetti, immaginari, desideri in viaggio tra mondi, Raffaello Cortina, Milano, 2018 (edizione ampliata).
  • Driver, Felix, Mark Nesbitt and Caroline Cornish (eds.), Mobile Museums. Collections in Circulation,UCL Press, London, 2021.
  • Dudley, Sandra H. (ed.), Museum Materialities. Objects, Engagements, Interpretations, Routledge, New York and London, 2010.
  • Dudley, Sandra H (ed.), Museum Objects. Experiencing the Properties of Things, Routledge, London, 2012.
  • Dudley Sandra H. et al. (eds.), Narrating Objects, Collecting Stories, Routledge, New York, 2012.
  • Dudley, Sandra, Amy Jane Barnes, Jennifer Binnie, Julia Petrov, Jennifer Walklate (eds), The Thing about Museums, Routledge, London, 2012.
  • Edwards, Elizabeth, Chris Gosden, Ruth B. Phillips (eds.), Sensible Objects: Colonialism, Museums and Material Culture, Berg, Oxford and New York, 2002.
  • Elsner, John and Roger Cardinal (eds.), The Cultures of Collecting, Reaktion Books, London, 1994.
  • Findlen, Paula, Possessing Nature. Museums, Collecting, and Scientific Culture in Early Modern Italy, University of California Press, Berkeley, 1994.
  • Henare, Amiria, Museums, Anthropology, and Imperial Exchange, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2005.
  • Hicks, Dan, The Brutish Museum. The Benin Bronzes, Colonial Violence and Cultural Restitution, Pluto Press, London, 2020.
  • Hooper-Greenhill, Eilean, Museums and the Shaping of Knowledge, Routledge, London and New York, 1992.
  • Impey, Oliver, and Arthur MacGregor (eds.), The Origin of Museums; The Cabinet of Curiosities in Sixteenth- and Seventeenth-Century Europe, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1985.
  • Karp Ivan, Christine Kreamer, Steven D. Lavine (eds.), Museums and Communities. The Politics of Public Culture, Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington and London, 1992.
  • Karp, Ivan, Corinne A. Kratz, Lynn Szwaja, Tomás Ibarra Frausto (eds.), Museum Frictions. Public Cultures/Global Transformations, Duke University Press, Durham and London, 2006.
  • Karp, Ivan and Steven D. Lavine, Exhibiting Cultures. The Poetics and Politics of Museum Display, Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington and London, 1991 (versione originale più ampia della traduzione italiana in programma d’esame).
  • Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, Barbara, Destination Culture. Tourism, Museums, and Heritage, University of California Press, Berkeley, 1998.
  • Kuper, Adam, The Museum of Other People. From Colonial Acquisitions to Cosmopolitan Exhibitions, Profile Books, London, 2023.
  • Macdonald, Sharon (ed.), A Companion to Museum Studies, Blackwell, Oxford, 2006.
  • Marini Clarelli, Maria Vittoria, Che cos’è un museo, Carocci, Roma, 2005.
  • Miller, Peter, History and His Objects. Antiquarianism and Material Culture Since 1500, Cornell University Press, Ithaca and London, 2017.Marini Clarelli, Maria Vittoria, Che cos’è un museo, Carocci, Roma, 2005.
  • Morphy, Howard, Museums, Infinity and the Culture of Protocols. Ethnographic Collections and Source Communities, Routledge, London, 2020.
  • Nichols, Catherine A., Exchanging Objects. Nineteenth-Cent, 2003. ury Museum Anthropology at the Smithsonian Institution, Berghahn, New York-Oxford, 2021.
  • Pearce, Susan (ed.), Objects of Knowledge, Athlone Press, London, 1990.
  • Peers, Laura, and Alison K. Brown (ed.), Museums and source communities, Routledge, London, 2003.
  • Pinna, Giovanni, Divagazioni sulla storia politica dei musei, scaricabile a https://www.giovanni.pinna.info/libro.html
  • Poulot, Dominique, Musei e museologia, Jaca Book, Milano, 2020.
  • Schorch, Philipp, Conal McCarthy (eds.), Curatopia. Museums and the future of curatorship, Manchester University Press, Manchester, 2019.
  • Simpson, Moira G., Making Representations. Museums in the Post-Colonial Era, Routledge, London and New York, 1996.
  • Sleeper-Smith, Susan (ed.), Contesting Knowledge. Museums and Indigenous Perspectives, University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln and London, 2009.
  • Thomas, Nicholas, Entangled Objects. Exchange, Material Culture and Colonialism in the Pacific, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, 1991.
  • Thomas, Nicholas, The Return of Curiosity. What Museums are Good For in the 21st Century, Reaktion Books, London, 2016.
  • ·von Bismarck, Beatrice and Benjamin Meyer-Krahmer (eds.), Cultures of the Curatorial. Curatorial Things, Sternberg Press, London, 2019.
  • ·von Oswald, Margareta, Jonas Tinius (eds.), Across anthropology. Troubling colonial legacies, museums, and the curatorial, Leuven University Press, 2020.
  • Warnier, Jean-Pierre, La cultura materiale, Meltemi, Milano, 2005.

Teaching methods

Some lessons will be devoted to the collective discussion of some articles, uploaded among the teaching materials of the course.

Dates and texts to be read will be communicated at the beginning of the course.

Beside the lectures, there will be some seminars where invited teachers will present their research on the history of collections and museums.

Assessment methods

Students who attend at least 75% of the lessons are considered to be attending

The final exam will be an oral one, with questions aimed to verify the student's knowledge of the themes discussed during frontal lessons (only for students that participated in classwork) as well as those treated in the program's texts. The questions will deal with general themes, and in his answer the student should show his capacity to go into specific details. Among the elements that concur in the final evaluation there are: detailed knowledge of the book's content, property of language, and especially the capacity of organizing the information – also deriving from different sources – into complex answers showing expositive and critical skills.

Proper language and the ability to critically speak about the books' content will lead to a good/excellent final grade

Acceptable language and the ability to resume the books' content will lead to a sufficient/fair grade.

Insufficient linguistic proficiency and fragmentary knowledge of the books' content will lead to a failure in passing the exam.

To sign up for the exam, please use the Almaesami website.

Teaching tools

The frontal lessons will be supported by Power Point presentations that will be uploaded in the “Teaching materials” section of this website after each class.

Office hours

See the website of Davide Domenici