• Join over 1.2 million students every month
  • Accelerate your learning by 29%
  • Unlimited access from just £6.99 per month

Timothy W., Luke 'Museum politics: Power plays at the exhibition'

Extracts from this document...


Book Review: Timothy W., Luke 'Museum politics: Power plays at the exhibition' (Minneapolis, 2002) Each year museums across the United States attract more visitors than either movie cinemas or sport games. Yet until recently, museums have not been the subject of serious political analysis. However, the past ten years have witnessed a series of debates about the social, political and moral implications of museum exhibitions, but as Luke points out 'these debates.. have chewed over the significance of only a few controversial exhibits whose curators dared to question some unspoken assumptions about America's national identity and historical development..'. (p.4) In this interesting volume, Timothy W. Luke, Political Science Professor at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, explores museums' power to shape collective values and social understandings and argues persuasively that museums exhibitions have a profound effect on the body politic. As he stresses, ' this book is my attempt to highlight this reality'. (p.4) Luke has published a wide range of work on human, nature, democracy and the process of globalization; this critical perspective on 'how different types of museums work in the public life of the United States' (p. 218) is equally valid. As a political space, Luke sees the museum as combining the secular and the sacred, and providing cultural teachings for the young generations and a collective memory for the elderly. In the first few pages of the introduction to the book, while emphasizing the importance of museums as sites of public instruction and collective imagination, Luke also gives us a definition of culture as 'the conventional understandings common to specific social groups, which are made manifest in their shared acts and artifacts'. ...read more.


other hand, 'the unspeakable is said, the unimaginable is seen and the incomprehensible is simplified in ways that are too entertaining' (p.38) Luke denotes a double horror as the Holocaust is transformed 'into mechanically reproduced spectacles in the rhetoric of museum entertainment'.(p. 57) Both exhibitions fail in the attempt to weave the events of the Holocaust into a larger fabric of genocide around the world: while the Tolerance Museum focuses at least partially on the Armenian genocide in the Ottoman empire, on Pol Pot's reign of terror in Cambodia and on the 'desaparicidos' in Latin America; the Holocaust Memorial Museum display focuses almost exclusively on the six million Jewish victims and their special persecution by the Nazi Regime. Even more, both these portrayals of immense epic evil fail to explain how intolerance grew in advanced industrial societies and how individual decisions and ordinary acts brought participants to commit genocide. '...The attribution of such events purely to demagogues, who artfully exploit mass fear and frustrations among receptive audiences by using personal magnetism to attack scapegoat populations, simplifies all of history's genocidal episodes to fit the same psychic profile given to Hitler and the Nazis in Germany from 1918 through 1945.' (p. 51) '...They give far too much away... they do not show how people could fall under the sway of Hitler; they do not demonstrate the dangerous excitements of fascism. They also require too little from the visitor, who can get swept into the pulse and pace of the show, awed by the artifacts, swayed by the statistics. They do not indicate how necessary it was to think and fight back, right then and there, like many German communists and socialists tried to do. ...read more.


The writing style is very good, although Luke uses a very dense sociological and academic language which can at first can be quite intimidating for a non-English mother-tongue.. Although concentrating on external museum politics and the outside consequences of museum exhibitions, the book says too little about internal museum politics and about the internal struggles which occur within museums. At the same time not enough attention is given to the important role played by the marketplace in attracting visitors and in making exhibitions an entertaining as well as an educational experience for them. And the tremendous fall in museum exhibition attendance after 9/11 is also not addressed at all. Luke's analysis of museums and their policies hardly takes into account basic issues like museum budgets, finance, donations, fund-rising and marketing. Policy documents are not cited, staff observations are unrecorded, and artists included or excluded are not consulted. It would have been interesting to know something more about the social origin of the visitors to museum exhibitions: do museums attract mainly individuals coming from society's elites or upper classes? Does the ticket cost play a significant role in attracting different social classes to museum exhibitions? Or is this role played entirely by the exhibition topic? Though containing a wealth of comments on globalization and culture, Luke's book remains a study of museums confined to the United States of America, with little or no reference made to museum exhibitions in Europe or elsewhere in the States. Timothy Luke's volume is worthwhile reading; it challenged my thinking and I learned from it. Yet, one unanswered question remains: can museums be a public space for discursive wars, a site of struggle between new unconventional understandings and collectively accepted views of reality, and not be destroyed by these wars of position? 1 ...read more.

The above preview is unformatted text

This student written piece of work is one of many that can be found in our AS and A Level International History, 1945-1991 section.

Found what you're looking for?

  • Start learning 29% faster today
  • 150,000+ documents available
  • Just £6.99 a month

Not the one? Search for your essay title...
  • Join over 1.2 million students every month
  • Accelerate your learning by 29%
  • Unlimited access from just £6.99 per month

See related essaysSee related essays

Related AS and A Level International History, 1945-1991 essays

  1. The role of partisan politics in the spread of McCarthyism

    to gain a psychological hold on the country by supporting him despite the fact that McCarthy was blatantly hunting innocent people with no connection to Communism. As Raab states, 'McCarthyism became more pertinent than usual for a large number of people .

  2. How far has the historical, social and cultural development of America shaped the plays ...

    In 1921 these two recent immigrants, alleged to be anarchists, were found guilty of murder on the flimsiest of evidence and were executed six years later. The 1920s became known as the 'Roaring Twenties'. It was the Jazz Age, the era of the 'flapper' (young women who flouted conventions), mass

  1. American Culture Today.

    The craze to move out west to the "New Frontier" was a challenging travel. With few mountains and rivers to cross, The Oregon Trail was the ideal path to the new Western lands. Popcorn is enjoyed by most Americans as they watch a movie.

  2. This graduation paper is about U.S. - Soviet relations in Cold War period. Our ...

    Early drafts of speeches on the issue had focused specifically on economic questions. America could not afford, one advisor noted, to allow Greece and similar areas to "spiral downward into economic anarchy." But such arguments, another advisor noted, "made the whole thing sound like an investment prospectus."

  1. American History.

    There were 5 basic aspects to the deal... CA came in as a free state.? Texas boundary kept at present limits but Texas given $10 million in? compensation for loss of territory to New Mexico. New Mexico and Utah territories to be decided by popular sovereignty.? Slave trade banned in Washington DC.? A new harsher fugitive slave law.?

  2. Why were the Communists able to come to power in China?

    With more appealing policies and actions, they were able to achieve their aim, establishing the Peoples Republic of China. Peasants, making up the majority of the Chinese population, were facing increasingly harsh conditions. They had to struggle on a limited crop producing area and with a growing population.

  1. Creative Writing - Crossing the Frontier

    Her plan was to try and cross the Soviet lines at its narrowest point, which she thought would be the eastern side of Berlin. She paced down side streets and alleyways, following a map she had carefully drawn in her head.


    Co. Richard Long, former Marine Corps's public information director. He attended the conference with respect on his previous role. He was responsible for training 700 journalist basic military skills, so that they could be taken into Iraq safely, and know what to do should they be attacked. However, Todd Gitlin, professor of sociology and journalism at Columbia University responded

  • Over 160,000 pieces
    of student written work
  • Annotated by
    experienced teachers
  • Ideas and feedback to
    improve your own work