Skip Navigation

First-Year Research Seminar: Museums and the Politics of Space

Semester and Year SP 2017
Course Number FIRST-UG784
Section 001
Instructor Melissa Turoff
Days MW
Time 12:30 PM - 1:45 PM
Units 4
Level U
Foundation Requirement  


Open to Gallatin first-year students only.


The concepts of “cultural heritage” and “historic preservation” are capacious, including natural resources, man-made artifacts, monuments, folklore, myth, and tradition. Most importantly, these concepts connect the past, present and future within a coherent narrative. The construction of this narrative is itself an ideologically and politically charged process. This course explores how and where this process occurs. How does it manifest itself in the spaces of museums, archaeological digs, sacred spaces, and tourist destinations? And how do these sites shape communities or nations? This seminar traces how global imperial projects of preservation and plunder filled the museums of London, Paris, and Rome. We explore how museums become contested sites of postcolonial nation-building, historical reckoning, and as a means of integrating traumatic events into our historical consciousness. Combining insights from history, museum studies, architecture, and urbanism, we examine how “cultural heritage” and “historic preservation” relate to museums. In what ways can museums be understood as political spaces shaped by national, colonial, and postcolonial forces? How do colonial and postcolonial politics shape the processes of curation and “museumification?” We also visit museums in New York to discuss the power dynamics behind “museumification” in our own city. More informal writing assignments culminate in two formal research projects. The aim of assignments throughout the seminar is to hone critical thinking and writing skills, to disentangle concepts of “heritage,” and to explore how museums helped build civilizations, empires, and modern-day nations. Readings may include Sir Walter Scott, John Ruskin, Pierre Nora, Michel Foucault, Eric Hobsbawm, Benedict Anderson, David Harvey, Susan Crane, Tapati Guha-Thakurta, Nezar AlSayyad, and Alexander Stille.

Course Type

First-Year Program: Research Seminars (FIRST-UG)