Teaching a new course on museum ethics

Posted on September 13, 2019

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This semester, I’m teaching a new course on Museum Ethics and Values. Early in the development of this course, I reached out via Twitter for thoughts about the kind of topics the course should address. These discussions have informed the final approach, so I wanted to share and revisit them. (I didn’t include every response, but here is a sense of the range and scope…)

Museum Neutrality & Systems of Oppression

 

All about that money (and governance)

Employment & Wage Equity

How to act work with and through ethical dilemmas (institutionally or personally)

Other interesting questions

The final course focuses primarily on contemporary cases and discussions to consider the institutional context of ethics, with the intent of helping my students understand the state of the field today. The top-line subjects we’re discussing include:

  • What is Ethics?
  • Codes of Ethics and Professional Standards
  • Museums, Money and Power
  • Ethical Curatorial Practices
  • Deaccessioning
  • Repatriation, Restitution and Human Remains
  • Issues in Ethical Conservation
  • Decolonization, Indigenization and Legacies of Colonialism
  • Working with Communities
  • Museum Neutrality + Social Justice
  • Environmental Sustainability
  • (Some) Issues Related to Digital Practice
  • Labor Issues
  • How to negotiate ethical issues as an emerging professional

Discussions about diversity are incorporated throughout, as are conversations about power (and who has it, who doesn’t). Being the first iteration of the course, I’m sure there are gaps and areas of practice that are missing or could be more effectively discussed, but after week three of class, this feels like a good starting place. It’s worth noting that this is now a core course for all students studying Museum Studies at GW, which they will take in their first year, so that considerations about ethics and ethical practice underpin the program.

Thank you my colleagues at GW, Gregory Stevens at the Institute of Museum Ethics, Ellie Miles, Jennifer Kingsley and everyone who weighed in on the initial Tweet for your thoughts. In anyone is interested in reading the syllabus in more detail, get in contact with me and I’ll send it your way.