Controversy in museums revisited: background resources #throwbackthursday

In the context of some work I am currently undertaking and in the spirit of #throwbackthursday, I have re-visited some projects I participated in around controversy, controversial topics and museums, primarily as a Partner Investigator and researcher on two Australian Research Council Grants.

Exhibitions as Contested Sites

This international research project investigated the role of museums with an emphasis on how institutions can deal effectively with the challenge of developing exhibitions on controversial issues and sensitive topics. It explored and analysed museological debates about the contemporary role of museums and theoretical and conceptual issues concerning the nature of controversy in a broader perspective. Part of the project situated controversy in an historical context by investigating how particular exhibitions in the past had been defined as controversial and how this had affected the role and functioning of museums. An examination of the role of the media was also a key part of the project. The expectations of museum staff, stakeholders and audiences were explored to gauge responses to controversy and to clarify potential roles for museums in the future. The study was being conducted both within Australia and internationally through a range of participating organisations.

Controversy in museums: a timeline This timeline first appeared in the Journal of Museum Education, Volume 23, No 3, 1998 and was co-edited by Maureen McConnell and Honee Hess. It is reproduced on that webpage with kind permission of the authors.

Controversy in museums: reading list (current to 2003)

Key Publications

Hot Science Global Citizens: the Agency of the Museum Sector in Climate Change Interventions
This research project was led by Dr Fiona Cameron from the Centre for Cultural Research, University of Western Sydney in partnership with Museum Victoria (Melbourne), The Australian Museum (Sydney), Powerhouse Museum (Sydney), Questacon (Canberra); Liberty Science Center (New Jersey, USA), the University of Melbourne (Earth Sciences) and the University of Leicester, Museum Studies. The project studied the museum sector as places to provide information, activate/broker discussions and decisions around climate change issues, both locally and trans-nationally.

The project used an interdisciplinary approach to develop new knowledge about what constitutes effective action around climate change, and how it could be represented and debated in local and global public spheres. The project looked to the museum sector – natural history, science museums and science centres – to play a role as resource, catalyst and change agent in climate change debates and decision-making. And as unique public spaces where science, government, industry, communities and NGOs can meet; where knowledge can be mediated, competing discourses and agendas tabled and debated; and where innovative decision-making platforms can be created.

Key Publications

My next post outlines how museums can meet the challege of presenting controversial topics based on several of the data sets from the first project.

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