The course deals with the questions regarding contemporary museums, their mission in the
conservation and representation of cultural heritage, their architecture, the exhibition design of their
Museums have always been an expression of a particular time and place, and from time to time they
are subject to reformulation of meaning and role. All museums are actually linked to the changing
social, political and cultural development of a society. Their state refers both to public and private
choices and enterprises, and is determined by the presence or lack of possibilities, resources,
necessities and opportunities.
Museums are created, they develop and grow, sometimes they decline, sometimes they disappear,
and sometimes they mutate into something diff erent. Such has been the case since the dawn of
In recent decades many museums have flourished as products of idiosyncratic contemporary issues.
We now have museums devoted to advanced sciences, popular culture, and social issues like work
and emigration; hot topics like disabilities, sexuality, racial violence, drugs, terrorism, genetically
modified foods, pandemics, and climate change; and “difficult” and “contested” topics about the
history of twentieth century wars, atrocities, holocaust and dictatorships.
Moreover, ethnic, religious, marginalized, and other enclaves claim to be represented in museums
because they have realized that museums are powerful instruments for creating a sense of belonging
and an avowal of being in the world, and be represented as such.
Museums, as living cultural institutions and political subjects, must then be continuously framed in
context, interrogated, monitored and queried in order to respond to the real needs and ideals of the
social body which they express. At the same time, museums should be improved to become
instruments for cultural development, representing both collective and individual memory and
identity. The practices, representations, functions and interactions performed by museums
continuously create and re-create the museums’ very conditions of existence and functioning.
In turn this determines the subsequent policies and actions in their missions and organizations.
While this all seems evident, the debate developing around the meaning and role of museums
testifies to divergent and sometimes irreconcilable positions. Consider the recent controversy
regarding the Declaration on the Importance and Value of Universal Museums and the repatriation
of ancient artifacts, or the ongoing discussions about historical museum displays: should we
conserve or renovate? Many questions have also been raised about the use and abuse of heritage in
the contemporary mass consumption of culture.
In these last decades, social and cultural studies have moved a criticism to the role of heritage and
museums in representing history and shaping identity, claiming that they have mostly contributed to
the formation of national belongings and produced “historical myths.” These myths elaborated on
identities based on the ancestry and authenticity of the original communities—which are often
“imagined” (Benedict Anderson. 1983. Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and
Spread of Nationalism. London: Verso)—or on “ethno-nationalism and Romantic notions of
attachment to place” (Gregory J. Ashworth, Brian Graham, and John E. Tunbridge. 2007.
Pluralising Pasts: Heritage, Identity and Place in Multicultural Societies.Ann Arbor, MI: Pluto
Press). This way, inclusions and exclusions have been arranged through physical and mental
These are barriers and frontiers that, in the conceptualization of a concrete and unitary past, found
values shared only by those related by “descent,” “genealogy,” or “blood membership.” It is not by
chance, in fact, that in Italian and French “heritage”—patrimonio, patrimoine—has the same
etymological latin root—pater: father—of the words patria,patrie: homeland.
Museums and libraries, part of the “exhibitionary complex” (Tony Bennett. 1988. “The
Exhibitionary Complex.” New Formations 4: 73-102), have always had, and still have, a special
role in establishing the values of a public sphere that has evolved from an aristocracy first, to a
nationalistic middle-class, then to the mass-society today. Ours is a condition that is progressively
visible in the cultural and social melting pots recognizable in recent years.
In fact, museums do not represent a unitary or monolithic reality. Rather, the museum systems find
articulation in a wide range of types, missions, proposals, and properties (public, private, corporate,
cooperative, etc.), thus reflecting today’s multifaceted global structures. Museums have gone from
being a national, regional or local phenomenon to being a world-wide phenomenon, with cultural
crisscrossing and interferences in other initiatives.
Movable and immovable heritage—defined by adjectives (cultural, political, archaeological,
architectural, industrial, immaterial, etc.) that articulate sub-disciplinary definitions of “original
inherited good”—is the focus of a redefinition of the polarity people/place, which shapes
identities through appropriate memories and physical media. Collections of artifacts, documents,
books, archives and libraries form the body of our cultural institutions. Yet, we also see
developments in an idea of museum that breaks the boundaries described by the walls of the
buildings, and involves people, places, populations, cities and territories in the representation of
complex histories and memories.
Today, then, the term “museum” applies to a wide range of cases and places and testifies that the
original concept of museum has shifted from a single minded locus of accumulation—a
emory/identity repository and irradiator—to a widespread archipelago of experiences that work
in an unstable equilibrium with communities and territories, cultures and identities. Small museums,
site museums, local museums, and city museums—all these location-specific museums are
continuously confronted with the changing social conditions and composition of the specific area,
whose historical environment represents traditions and memories still belonging to the inhabitants
of those places.
The course intend to give to the students a wide overview of the contemporary role and missions of museums
The course is organized with lessons and seminars held by teachers, visits to museums, and research
activities by the students.
The final evaluation is based on an oral exam about the theoretical issues treated in the lessons and
on the products of the research activities developed by each student.
For the students that will not be able to follow the lessons, the final evaluation is based on a written
critical analysis of five books chosen in agreement with the professor among the references
given at the beginning of the course.
General Readers, Anthologies, and Dictionaries:
-Bettina Messias Carbonell (ed.), Museum Studies: An Anthology of Contexts, Blackwell, Malden/MAOxford-
-Gerard Corsane (ed.), Heritage, Museums and Galleries: An Introductory Reader, Routledge, London-
New York/NY 2005.
-Sharon Macdonald (ed.), A Companion to Museum Studies, Wiley-Blackwell, Malden/MA-Oxford 2006.
-Brian Graham, Peter Howard (eds.), The Ashgate Research Companion to Heritage and Identity,
Ashgate, Aldershot-Burlington/VT 2008.
-François Mairesse, André Desvallées (eds.), Dictionnaire encyclopédique de muséologie, Armand Colin,
The Idea of Museum: Historical Perspectives:
-Alessandra Mottola Molfino, Il libro dei Musei, Umberto Allemandi, Torino 1991.
-Eilean Hooper-Greenhill, Museums and the Shaping of Knowledge, Routledge, London-New York/NY
1992. Ital. ed. I musei e la formazione del sapere: Le radici storiche, le pratiche del presente, il
Saggiatore, Milano 2005.
-Tony Bennett, The Birth of the Museum, Routledge, London-New York/NY 1995.
-Karsten Schubert, The Curator’s Egg: The Evolution of the Museum Concept from the French Revolution
to the Present Day, One-Off Press, London 2000. Ital. ed. Museo. Storia di un’idea. Dalla rivoluzione
francese a oggi, il Saggiatore, Milano 2004.
-Andrew Mcclellan, The Art Museum from Boullee to Bilbao, University of California Press,
Berkeley/CA-Los Angeles/CA-London 2008.
Museums Today: Debate and Studies on Major Issues:
-Robert Lumley (ed.), The Museum Time Machine: Putting Cultures on Display, Routledge, London-New
York/NY 1988. Ital. ed. L’industria del museo: Nuovi contenuti, gestione, consumo di massa, Costa &
Nolan, Genova 1989.
-Sharon Macdonald, Gordon Fyfe (eds.), Theorizing Museums, Blackwell, Cambridge 1996.
-Hilde S. Hein, The Museum in Transition: a Philosophical Perspective, Smithsonian Books,
-Janet Marstine (ed.), New Museum Theory and Practice: An Introduction, Blackwell Publishing,
-Simon J. Knell, Suzanne MacLeod, Sheila Watson (eds.), Museum Revolutions: How Museums Change
and are Changed, Routledge, London-New York/NY 2007.
-Ian Jones, Robert R. MacDonald, Darryl McIntyre (eds.), City Museums and City Development, AltaMira
Press, Lanham/MD 2008.
-James Cuno (ed.), Whose Culture?: The Promise of Museums and the Debate over Antiquities, Princeton
University Press, Princeton /NJ 2009.
-Jennifer Barrett, Museums and the Public Sphere, Wiley-Blackwell, Malden/MA-Oxford-Chichester
-Luca Basso Peressut, Clelia Pozzi (eds.), Museums in an Age of Migrations. Questions,
Challenges, Perspectives, EU-Polimi, Milan, 2012.
-Luca Basso Peressut, Francesca Lanz, Gennaro Postiglione (eds.), European Museums in the 21st
Century: Setting the Framework, EU-Polimi, Milan 2013.
Museums, Heritage, and Territory:
-Kevin Walsh, The Representation of the Past: Museums and Heritage in the Post-modern World,
Routledge, London-New York/NY 1992.
-Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, Destination Culture: Tourism, Museums, and Heritage, University of
California Press, Berkeley/CA-Los Angeles/CA-London 1998.
-Christina F. Kreps, Liberating Culture: Cross-cultural Perspectives on Museums, Curation and Heritage
Preservation, Routledge, London-New York/NY 2003.
-Gregory J. Ashworth, Brian Graham, J. E. Tunbridge, Pluralising Pasts: Heritage, Identity and Place in
Multicultural Societies, Pluto Press, London-Ann Arbor 2007.
-James Cuno, Who Owns Antiquity?: Museums and the Battle over Our Ancient Heritage, Princeton
University Press, Princeton/NJ 2008.
Museum Architecture: Theory and Practice:
-Douglas Davis, The Museum Transformed. Design and Culture in the Post-Pompidou Age, Abbeville
Press, New York/NY 1990.
-Victoria Newhouse, Towards a New Museum, Monacelli Press, New York/NY 1998.
-Luca Basso Peressut, Musei Architetture 1990-2000, Federico Motta Editore, Milano 1999. French ed.
Musées: Architectures 1990-2000, Actes Sud, Paris 1999.
-Vittorio Magnago Lampugnani, Angeli Sachs (eds.) , Museums for a New Millennium. Concepts,
Projects, Buildings, Prestel, München 1999.
-Michaela Giebelhausen (ed.), The Architecture of the Museum. Symbolic Structures, Urban Contexts,
Manchester University Press, Manchester-New York/NY 2003.
-Luca Basso Peressut, Il Museo Moderno: Architettura e museografia da Perret a Kahn, Lybra Immagine,
-Suzanne MacLeod (ed.), Reshaping Museum Space. Architecture, Design, Exhibitions, Routledge,
London-New York/NY 2005.
-Pippo Ciorra, Donata Tchou, (eds.), Museums Next Generation/Il futuro dei musei, Electa, Milano 2006.
-Stefania Suma, Musei II architetture 2000-2007, Motta Architettura, Milano 2007. French ed. Musées 2:
Architectures 2000-2007, Actes Sud, Paris 2007.
Museography, Exhibitions: Cultural Debate and Design:
-Ivan Karp, Steven D. Lavine (eds.), Exhibiting Cultures: The Poetics and Politics of Museum Display,
Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington/DC-London 1991. Ital. ed. Culture in mostra: Poetiche e
politiche dell’allestimento museale (intr. by F. Drugman), Clueb, Bologna 1995.
-Reesa Greenberg, Bruce W. Ferguson, Sandy Nairne (eds.), Thinking About Exhibitions, Routledge,
London-New York/NY 1996.
-Antonella Huber, Il Museo italiano: La trasformazione di spazi storici in spazi espositivi. Attualità
dell’esperienza museografica degli anni ‘50/The Italian Museum:The conversion of historic spaces into
exhibition spaces.The relevance of the museographical experience of the Fifties, Lybra Immagine, Milano
-Emma Barker (ed.), Contemporary Cultures of Display, Yale University Press-The Open University,
New Haven/CT-London 1999.
-Victoria Newhouse, Art and the Power of Placement, Monacelli Press, New York/NY 2005.
-Suzanne Macleod, Laura Hourston, Jonathan Hale (eds.), Museum Making. Narratives, Architectures,
Exhibitions, Routledge, London-New York/NY 2012.