CfP: Museums as Agents of Memory and Change

25-26/04/2019, Estonian National Museum, Tartu, Estonia
Organisers: Estonian National Museum, University of Tartu
Keynote speakers confirmed: Dr Silke Arnold-de Simine (Birkbeck, University of London)

Museums have been shifting toward expanding their work from collecting and preserving to supporting and educating communities. They are using their collections to promote social change in the context of rising global demands on history and culture institutions. More than ever, dealing with the past is full of impediments and challenges for museums. How should they address a ‘global visitor’ who has little or no knowledge of the past – local, national or regional – to which the museum is dedicated? What stories should they tell and how, what memory cultures should they take into account? On the other hand, what have museums done and what do they intend to do in order to change the established way of remembering the past? What are the characteristics, risks and benefits in dealing with the difficult past in museums? What problems can museums tackle as they attempt to bring in changes to remembering and commemorating the past?

This conference aims to problematise museums as places of memory negotiations, and agents of societal change. While increasingly seeking to engage themselves in public life, museums are embedded in the fields of politics of memory and heritage, diverse, often disparate group interests, and power relations. How can a contemporary museum critically deal with the past and shape open debate and yet take into account diverse stakeholders and the versatility of narratives in play?

We welcome papers that approach the problems and dilemmas as well as best practices of contemporary museums as agents of memory and change:

How do museums position themselves in concurrent policies of memory and heritage? What are the roles of the museums in countries with targeted history politics? What dilemmas, possibilities and/or obstacles do they encounter in ‘memory-laden’ societies?
How do museums connect to transnational memory processes? What kind of new forms of remembrance should museums develop to make visible and/or seek to overcome tensions between group-specific, regional national and transnational memory?
How can museum relate historically specific and more abstract and structural experiences? Does anthropological universalisation have a place in national, regional or group-specific museums? How do museums address difference and shared legacy issues?
How is a transformation of the role of museums manifested in methods of visitor involvement? How are trends in recent museology linked to museums’ awareness of their role as public history agents? Are there specific trends in using media, material collections and oral histories to evoke open debate and awareness on memory matters? What topics and methods ‘work’ for different audiences, and why?
How should the issue of authorship and the autonomy of the curator in curating difficult histories (initiators, passive players, opposers) be addressed? Are curators independent agents in memory processes or do they mediate institutional points of view? Are there different practices in different types of museum (for example in art museums, cultural historical museums)?

We welcome submissions from a variety of disciplines and from museum professionals as well as academics.

Please submit your abstract of 300 words for a 20‐minute paper, along with a short CV, by October 15, 2018 to:

The conference language is English.

The conference fee of 100 EUR covers attendance to all sessions, lunches and coffee/tea breaks during the conference, welcome reception, and conference materials.

The time and venue of the conference is April 25-26, 2019 at the Estonian National Museum, Tartu, Estonia.

Notification of acceptance: November 15, 2018

Deadline for registration and conference fee payment: March 30, 2019

We are expecting to publish an edited collection based on a selection of the papers presented at the conference.