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BA History of Art / Course details

Year of entry: 2021

Course unit details:
Collecting, Museums, Display: The Afterlife of Objects

Unit code AHCP20111
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 2
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
Offered by Art History and Cultural Practices
Available as a free choice unit? No


This course considers the role played by collecting and museums - the 'life' of artworks and other objects after their physical production - in the organisation of the experience and the understanding of art and material culture. It looks at the institutional, social and cultural values associated with the public visibility of individual objects as well as their definition within larger systems of display. As such, the course is both issue-based and site- or case-study specific. It will provide some grounding in the history of collecting and the museum, as well as in contemporary debates about the function of the art object in the contemporary museum. It looks at how such matters have been tackled by a range of theorists. Attention will be given to the response by different art museums to the development of new means of displaying objects and relations between objects through the formation of the Internet. The lectures will be divided into four thematic sections (Collecting, Display, Space/Site and Beyond the Institution) and the seminars will each mirror these themes.


1. To discover an acceptable critical framework for studying the appearance and identification of a range of objects in the historical and contemporary art museum.

2. To examine the ways in which collectors, critics, curators and other interested parties have articulated meanings for such objects.

3. To consider the changing social, cultural and material conditions in which collections are formed and governed.

Learning outcomes

On successful completion of this course a successful student will have:

1. Acquired an understanding of some of the key texts on issues relating to collecting and the institutional display of the art object.

2. Appreciated the role played by modern technology in the development and dissemination of knowledge about art objects and art museums.

3. Acquired an understanding of the historical development of the art museum and its 'architecture' (both real and virtual).

4. Developed the means to critique contemporary display methods and relate them to historical developments.


Please note that the following is indicative only and lectures may change from year to year:

  • Theories of Collecting/Objects
  • Cabinets of Curiosities: Collecting, Classification, Display
  • Sir John Soane’s Collection and Museum: Identity, Memory, Legacy
  • The Wellcome Collections and its Afterlife in Museums, Exhibitions, Literature and Film
  • Surrealist Museography and the Imaginary Museum
  • The Afterlife of Objects from the Summer Palace in China
  • Living Cultures: The Rehabilitation of the Manchester Museum Anthropology Collection
  • Tate Modern: A Case Study
  • The Musgrave Kinley Outsider Art Collections at the Whitworth Art Gallery
  • Museum without Walls?

Teaching and learning methods

Teaching processes:

  • Lectures from experts working in various fields (art history, museology, curatorship)
  • Seminars focussed on key themes and issues

Learning processes:

  • Completing guided and independent reading
  • Taking notes and otherwise recording ideas or experiences in lectures, and seminars
  • Engaging with collections and institutions first hand and applying this experience in the essay
  • Collaborating on the group project
  • Planning and delivering the solo presentation
  • Researching, writing and presenting the essay
  • Reviewing and learning theories and material for the exam

Knowledge and understanding

  1. Demonstrate a basic understanding of the history of collecting and museums
  2. Demonstrate in-depth knowledge of some of the key theories of collecting, taxonomy and display
  3. Demonstrate in-depth knowledge of particular collections and institutions

Intellectual skills

  1. Show an awareness of the politics of collecting and display
  2. Apply theories of collecting, classification and display to a range of case studies
  3. Think critically about contemporary museum displays, relating them to historical examples

Practical skills

  1. Deliver a solo presentation in a coherent and engaging manner
  2. Collaborate on presenting their ideas creatively in the form of a hypothetical museum display
  3. Produce an essay based on research and reading conducted during the course.

Transferable skills and personal qualities

  1. Work independently
  2. Work collaboratively
  3. Manage their time effectively
  4. Solve a range of problems using appropriate techniques

Assessment methods

1 essay of 2000 words (30%), one group project (10%) one individual presentation (20%) and two hour exam (50%).

Because this is a core course in the History of Art, all students on this programme must acquire a course unit average of 40% to receive any credits

Feedback methods

  • written feedback on group project
  • written feedback on essay
  • written feedback on presentation
  • additional one-to-one feedback (during the consultation hour or by making an appointment)
  • feedback on the exam (on request)

Recommended reading

Basic Reading
In addition to the books and articles recommended for each lecture and required for each seminar, these texts provide essential background reading for the course and a point of departure for further research.

Abbreviations regarding location:
AAL Art and Archaeology Site Library, Mansfield Cooper
HD High Demand Collection, John Rylands University Library
K Kantorowich Library, Humanities Bridgeford Street
MMU Manchester Metropolitan University Library

- Alberti, Samuel J.M.M., 'Objects and the Museum', in Isis, vol. 96, no. 4, 2005, pp. 559-571.
- Altshuler, Bruce (ed.), Collecting the New: Museums and Contemporary Art, Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2005. AAL
- Appadurai, Arjun (ed.) The Social Life of Things: Commodities in Cultural Perspective, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986. HD
- Barker, Emma (ed.), Contemporary Cultures of Display, New Haven and London: Yale University Press in association with The Open University, 1999. AAL, HD
- Baudrillard, Jean, For a Critique of the Political Economy of the Sign, trans. Charles Levin, New York: Telos Press, 1981. AAL
- Baudrillard, Jean, Revenge of the Crystal: Selected Writings on the Modern Object and its Destiny, 1968-1983, ed. and trans. Paul Foss and Julian Pefanis, London and Sydney: Pluto in association with the Power Institute of Fine Arts, 1990. HD
- Belk, Russell W., Collecting in a Consumer Society, London: Routledge, 2001. AAL
- Benjamin, Walter, 'The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction', in Illuminations, edited and with an introd. by Hannah Arendt, trans. Harry Zorn, London: Pimlico, 1999, pp. 211-244. AAL, HD
- Benjamin, Walter, 'Unpacking My Library: a Talk About Book Collecting', in Illuminations, edited and with an introd. by Hannah Arendt, trans. Harry Zorn, London: Pimlico, 1999, pp. 61-69. AAL, HD
- Bennett, Tony, The Birth of the Museum: History, Theory, Politics, London: Routledge, 1995. AAL, HD
- Bourdieu, Pierre, Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste, trans. Richard Nice, London: Routledge, 1984. K, HD
- Camille, Michael and Rifkin, Adrian (eds), 'Other Objects of Desire: Collectors and Collecting Queerly', Art History, vol. 24, no. 2, 2001.
- Clifford, James, The Predicament of Culture: Twentieth-century Ethnography, Literature, and Art, Cambridge, Mass. And London: Harvard University Press, 1988 (especially Chapter 10, 'On Collecting Art and Culture', pp. 215-251). AAL, HD
- Daston, Lorraine (ed.), Things that Talk: Object Lessons from Art and Science, New York: Zones Books, 2004. HD
- Duncan, Carol, Civilizing Rituals: Inside Public Art Museums, London: Routledge, 1995. AAL, HD
- Elsner, John and Cardinal, Roger (eds), The Cultures of Collecting, London: Reaktion Books, 1997. AAL, HD
- Fisher, Philip, Making and Effacing Art: Modern American Art in a Culture of Museums, Cambridge, Mass. and London: Harvard University Press, 1991. AAL
- Fried, Michael, 'Art and Objecthood', in Artforum, no. 5, June 1967, pp. 12-23.
- Giebelhausen, Michaela (ed.), The Architecture of the Museum: Symbolic Structures, Urban Contexts, Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2003. AAL
- Greenberg, Reesa, Ferguson, Bruce W. and Nairne, Sandy (eds), Thinking About Exhibitions, London: Routledge, 1996. AAL, HD
- Hooper-Greenhill, Eilean, Museums and the Shaping of Knowledge, London: Routledge, 1992. AAL, HD
- Knell, Simon (ed.), Museums and the Future of Collecting, Aldershot: Ashgate, 2004. AAL
- Lippard, Lucy R. (ed.), Six Years: The Dematerialization of the Art Object from 1966 to 1972, Berkeley and London: University of California Press, 1997. AAL
- MacGregor, Arthur, Curiosity and Enlightenment: Collectors and Collections from the Sixteenth to the Nineteenth Century, New Haven, Conn. and London: Yale University Press, 2007. HD
- Mack, Gerhard, Art Museums Into the 2

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Assessment practical exam 2
Lectures 11
Seminars 22
Tutorials 11
Independent study hours
Independent study 154

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Carol Mavor Unit coordinator

Additional notes

Semester 1

Lecture:Tuesday 1pm to 3pm


Wednesday 10 am to 12 noon

Friday 1pm to 3pm

Thursday 10am to 12 noon

Seminars are allocated at random.  You may not choose your seminar group.

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