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《Museum》 2017-03
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Content or Container? Museology as a Discipline

Riemer R.Knoop;Jie Xu;Reinwardt Academy/Amsterdam University of the Arts;College of Humanities of Zhejiang University;  
Underlying the discussions about the academic status of museology, there is a broader question: what are museums, and what are they for? The National Museum of Antiquities in Leiden(the Netherlands), where I was employed for almost a decade, offers a good practical example, with interesting parallels to Chinese situations. Members of its staff contend that it's essentially an institution serving archaeology, functioning as a showcase for a particular academic discipline by presenting the results or research and the materials found during archaeological excavations and focused collecting practices. Thus it would all be about serving the content, and making the intermediary nearly invisible. In fact, two of its curators hold Leiden University professorship chairs in museology that are ancillary to archaeology. Others, however, defi ne that very museum, and by implication any museum, fi rst and foremost by its particular communication function, the subject of which is archaeological, or material cultural history. In that sense, the museum is a container that deserves to be understood precisely in terms of its being a medium. In this way, a time-honoured organizational transformation that took place throughout the museum world, during but not confi ned to the seventies, from collections-based to functions-based, is still relevant. Academic approaches of museums as media therefore will focus on understanding processes of "musealization" and "heritagization"(functions) within wider societal and cultural contexts, whereas in a "content approach"(collections) focus will be more on presentation, not particularly heeding the quintessential transition of objects to a museum dimension. At my own Reinwardt Academy, the cultural heritage faculty of the Amsterdam University of Arts, the functions approach is privileged. We facilitate the comprehensive development of competencies required to be able to professionally function in museums as a medium. The basic museum processes can be brought back to: acquisition(assessing, selecting); physical and intellectual preservation(or safeguarding when dealing with intangible heritage), implying managing information in order to do so; providing access in all forms and manners, from communication and education to presentation and outreach; and applying leadership and guidance, both managerial and ethical. This last aspect is inherent in all others, but is also needed on a higher level in order to provide focus and direction to the overall course of the institution. About these core processes we furthermore contend that they are not linearly aligned but rather form a feedback loop, since we believe the purpose of museums and other heritage institutions, ultimately, to be in the creation of signifi cance, not as the discovery of a predetermined fact but as the result of an ongoing process of interaction with today's ever-changing audiences(that are morphing from visitors through users to co-owners). The output and impact of the communication process, therefore, are input in the next iteration of assessment, selection and acquisition. A leadership vision giving direction to these processes can be, for instance, to contribute to a more just, more inclusive and more sustainable future. And it is in such interaction with audiences that a museum shows itself to be quintessentially more than just an archaeological communication institution. Understanding these processes and critically refl ecting on the ensuing dilemmas is what make museology into an independent subject, though with a high crossdisciplinary character.
【CateGory Index】: G260
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