Loyola University Chicago

John Felice Rome Center

ClST 389 Classical Backgrounds: An Introduction to Museum studies

Spring 2012


            This  course  discusses museums well beyond their traditional function of collecting, preserving, interpreting and presenting  documents  produced  by  material cultures of our world.   Students will be guided in fact to see museums also as  “mass-media” , social “tracers” as well as “objects-subjects” for economical and political elaboration.  Special attention will be given to the experiences developed internationally throughout  the  20th century, when  the  very  name and the concept of museum  have been thoroughly reconsidered.   The Instructor’s lifelong experiences as a museum-professional will offer frequently  a “behind-the-scene” approach to this world and to its problems.



            Side by side with a brief introduction to the history of museums, the course mirrors the developments of specific fields like Museography and Museology as combined in Museum Studies.  In a multidisciplinary perspective, students will consider museums as support of specific research, primary tools for all levels of education, powerful social actors within their communities and, frequently, key-points along the trails of international tourism. From different viewpoints students will also consider the impact on the museums’ world of many conflicting needs, relevant not only to their mission but also to their operation and budgeting (see syllabus below for details on individual topics discussed).  For these reasons  the course could appeal to students interested in the Humanities, in the Social Sciences and in Economics as well.

            Moreover, the necessary attention given to an adequate appreciation of Museum Architecture across time and space  (far beyond the functional task of providing collections with a proper “shelter”)  will help students to see museum-collections  into their full context, considering design, forms and  materials used in the process and developing personal views on the reciprocal impact of collections and museum-design.  Especially in this sense, the course tries to stimulate critical ability, visual sensitivity and an attitude to consider how different designs, forms and materials can contribute to the manyfold tasks that museums perform in our society and to their impact on the urban space and on ourselves. The interest shown, the world over, by individual communities for their local museums (or for the possibility of creating one) could offer to students of this course a chance of developing personal views on such problems.

            In the process of debating museums, their collections, their history, their displays, their design and their interaction with their social context, students will be assisted by the broad variety of viewpoints presented in our textbook, one of the best available sources in English to approach the field of Museum Studies.  All of that will help them in developing their own interpretations as well as in acquiring the relevant vocabulary;  consequently they will enrich their own chances to contribute to the cultural and artistic life of their own communities.



            Every lesson will be richly illustrated by original slides from the instructor’s collection, reproducing documents on historical collections, buildings of contemporary museums in four Continents,  details of their displays,  as well as diagrams produced to visualize specific problems and/or data related with their management. The on site classes (please see syllabus below for details)  will be properly assisted with specific materials prepared by the Instructor.   Readings from modern sources on Museum Studies  (in English or in translation)  will be offered in class or made available as abstracts for home-work.   In all cases, class-discussion and participation to class-work are to be considered crucial and are highly encouraged and valued by the instructor.  Moreover, since the variety of points and comparisons developed, both in class and in the on-site visits, can only in part find a substitute in the required  readings,  class attendance, individual feedback and personal interaction with the teacher are strongly recommended.

            This  course  will  be  using  Blackboard.        Personal  appointments   can  be arranged at the students’ discretion.     For  email contacts,  usually  answered  within  24 hours in  office  days,  see address  above.      For  all  urgent  matters,  phone  calls  are recommended  (see details above).

            The  midterm exam  will consist  of  a hand-written essay answering  two questions over four  or five;  such questions  -broad in scope and flexible in structure-  will  be  strictly  based  on class-work, on-site visits and the related reading material. The same format and methodology will be applied to the final exam.   Individual  cases  and  personal  problems can  be discussed with  the Instructor.    

            During the month of February, the students will choose,  under the Instructor’s guidance, the topic for an individual project in writing  -a brief essay or report based on a printed source and/or on the analysis of web-site(s)- related with one or more international museums and/or with the relevant problems.  Ideally such essays (format of not less than 5 to 6 typed pages) should reflect a personal interest within the scope of the course.   These papers are to be given personally, in hard copy, to the instructor by March 29 at the  very latest.   No email messages can be accepted for grading.

            In this context it’s worth to remind students that will be taken for granted their knowledge of our University’s policy on matters of academic integrity (on such matters please see  http//www.luc.academics/undergrade/catalog/standards.html).




(References are made to:     Bettina  Messias  CARBONELL,  Museum Studies - An        Anthology of contexts; Blackwell Publishing UK Ltd.. 2003 / paperback,  available at our  Bookstore  and  in  our Library) .  Other work-material, including suggestions on relevant web-sites, will be posted on Blackboard during the semester.

Lessons  1 and 2     An introduction to the course. Museums today: ancestry and tentative definitions.  Collections and “museums” from the Renaissance to the end of the 18th century  (CARBONELL: Introductions, pages 1 and 15; Chapters: 1, p.18, BAZIN;  2,  p.23, FINDLEN;  5,  pag.85, HUDSON).

Lesson  3                   The  “modern  museum”  –  advent, functions, legacy  (CARBONELL:

                                    Chapters: 3, p.51, DUNCAN;  4, p.71, PREZIOSI; 39, p.403, LE  CORBUSIER).

Lesson  4  on site      A visit to the Palazzo Altemps – archaeological  masterpieces  from:  the  collections  of  the  Museo  Nazionale  Romano. www.archeoroma.beniculturali.it/it/palazzo_massimo (there, link to Palazzo Altemps)   How does a 20thcentury museum mirror  the international  past of  museums?

Lessons 5  and  6    Museums as a  “language”:  tools,  aims  and  experiences  in  museum-communications.  Teaching  and  learning  through museum displays.  Visitors  as “meaning makers”  (CARBONELL:  Chapters: 7, p.104, PORTER; 34, p.348, KAVANAGH; 44, p.436, FISHER: 52,  p.556, HOOPER-GREENHILL).

Lesson  7                   Dreaming of a “valley of Eden”:  museums and Conservation. Scientific backgrounds, budgetary constraints and  political  contradictions  in  the  life of contemporary museums.

Lesson  8  on site      A visit to the site & museum at  the new “Auditorium of Rome”.

                                    (Architect Renzo Piano, 2004).   www.auditorium.com/en/auditorium/

                                    Archaeological sites, site-museums and the urban space

Lessons 9 and 10    Museums and Society: museums, communities and their “memories”.  History, history-making and the manyfold role of museums. Wars, atrocities and their echo in museums.   Local expectations, the “heritage industry” and the trails  of  “global tourism”           (CARBONELL:

                                    Chapters:  8, p.117,DUFFY;  9,  p.123, FRIMAN; 32,  p.318, CRANE;

                                    43, p.431, BOURDIEU)


Lesson 11  on site     A visit to the new National Museum for the Arts of the 21st century   (MAXXI),   designed  and  built   by  the  “star-architect”  Ms.  

                .                   Zaha Hadid, first open to the public in 2010.  www.fondazionemaxxi.it 

Museums and their architecture as  “per-se  attractions”

Lesson  12                Museums today and in the near future: temple, ark, or stage?  The risks  of  a  “commodification of History”. The changing concept of  “authenticity” and our perception of restorations, presentations and interpretations in museums and beyond  (CARBONELL: Chapters:29, p.302, KENNEDY;  50, p.521, DAVALOS;  51,p.541,GREENBLATT).

(Please note that a total of about 35 $ will be spent for entrance fees in  museums)

GRADING:                      The final grade for this course will be calculated in accordance with the following percentages:


                                          “Home Project”.....................................................20%

                                          Active class participation.................................... 10%

                                          Final test...............................................................40%


                                                            The grading scale adopted will be:


                                          (A) 100-93           (A-) 92-90      (B+) 89-87     (B) 86-83

                                          (B-) 82-80            (C+) 79-77     (C) 76-73       (C-) 72-70

                                          (D+) 69-67           (D) 66-60       (F) below 60


DEADLINES  AND  IMPORTANT  DATES  for the semester :

                                                                see above for details


                        Midterm exam .........................................March  1st

                        Choice of topic for “home-projects”......... before March  1st

                        Deadline for submitting papers .......... .... before March  29



                                                                                             Updated October 25, 2011