The International Committee for Museums of Ethnography (ICME) invites papers addressing "The World under One Roof: Past, Present and Future Ethnographic Approaches to Universality" at its sessions during the ICOM general conference, Vienna, Austria, August 19-24 2007.
In the Age of Enlightenment, the tension between particularism and universalism gave birth to the modern discipline of Anthropology. The scholarly challenge was to reconcile a burgeoning number of travel narratives depicting ‘strange’ customs in remote places with a general science of Humanity. In this époque, the idea of a “Universal Museum” was conceived and with it the curatorial problem of how to classify, arrange and exhibit the “curious objects” under its roof. Clearly a number of problems arise with the hierarchical ‘othering’ inherent in this historical approach, which lingers today. The ICME sessions will chart past, present and what might constitute future curatorial approaches to the following question: What universal narratives, if any, do ethnographic objects speak to?
Contemporary touchdowns might include the Musée du Quai-Branly in Paris, where the exhibition Qu’est-ce qu’un corps? (What is a body?), features different perceptions of reality and aesthetics tied to specific places and times. The curatorial approach seems one of comparing and juxtaposing different cultural representations and perceptions of a universal category: The body. In D’un regard l’autre we enter yet another approach to universality: The production of ethnographic materials as an instrument of Empire. In other words, ethnography understood as the “White Man’s labeling”, a colonial knowledge project embedded in the relations between France and her peripheries.
Another contemporary approach is found in the Museum of World Culture in Gothenburg. Here the focus is on connections, frictions and migrations between the cultures of the world, resulting in de-territorialized patchwork of Diasporas and trans-national ethnicities as carriers and makers of hybrid ethnographic materials. This curatorial approach seems to be underwritten by the notion of a world in cultural flux, where notions of authenticity and origin are subject to critical questioning.
It is now more than a Century ago since the Pitt Rivers Museum opened its doors to yet another universal approach to ethnographic materials. In Oxford, Pitt Rivers organized the ethnographic objects typologically, according to each object’s ability to solve a technological problem associated with everyday life: fire making, shelter, clothing, hunting and gathering, etc. The layout of the displays was not organized by cultures or connections, but arranged within a universal evolutionary framework. While much of the public face of the displays reflects this discredited Victorian heritage - representing a meta-statement on the idea of universality vis-à-vis ethnographic objects - the museum today is simultaneously engaged in serious consultation with both ‘source communities’ around the world as well as local Oxford groups.
Against this backdrop of changing approaches to universality, ICME invites papers to interrogate past and present assumptions about universality so we can better understand and perhaps rediscover possible futures of Universal Heritage in Ethnographic Museums.
CALL FOR PAPERS
Paper proposals are invited addressing "The World under One Roof: Past, Present and Future Ethnographic Approaches to Universality" or any of the following sub-themes:
'Ethnographic Curatorship' and Universal Heritage in historical and contemporary perspectives.
'Locality' and ethnographic representation.
'Holism' as an ethnographic focus.
The future of 'The Collection', and collections of the future: What's next?
Paper proposals of up to 250 words may be submitted to ICME2007@yahoogroups.com until March 31, 2007.
Fifteen minutes will be allotted for presentation of each accepted paper, and five additional minutes for discussion. In addition to regular presentations, a limited number of "Virtual Presentations" will be accepted, consisting of "stand alone" PowerPoint or other types of media presentations which wouldn't need a live speaker to be understood by the audience.
Further information is available on the ICME web site http://icme.icom.museum ,or from the ICME2007 working group at firstname.lastname@example.org , fax/voicemail number +13094245780, or Skype: icmepresident
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