Emory Report
December 11, 2006
Volume 59, Number 14




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December 11 , 2006
New book further explores frictions and
collaborations in museums, heritage sites around the world

By kim urquhart

The third volume of a best-selling series on culture, society and museums from Center for the Study of Public Scholarship co-directors Ivan Karp and Corinne Kratz is now available from Duke University Press. “Museum Frictions: Public Cultures/Global Transformations” examines the significant and varied effects of an increasingly globalized world on contemporary museum, heritage and exhibition practice.

Museums have different and often multiple mandates and complex and contradictory roles. The book’s essays examine the way these frictions play out as museum-generated social processes and globalizing processes intersect and interact.

The book’s essays offer a multifaceted analysis of the complex roles that national and community museums, museums of art and history, monuments, heritage sites and theme parks play in creating public cultures. It takes a unique approach by examining museums as a whole from a cross-regional perspective, said Karp, a former curator and current National Endowment for the Humanities Professor at Emory.

“Museum Frictions is a landmark publication which decenters the Western-centric bias of the existing literature,” wrote one reviewer, while another called it “a thinking person’s guide to contemporary museum work.”

The new volume serves as an update to a project that began more than a decade ago with two Rockefeller Foundation-supported conferences at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C., which generated the content for the earlier books.

“It doesn’t often happen that you edit a book and it founds a new field,” said Karp of the first volume, “Exhibiting Cultures,” which sold more than 25,000 copies.

A conversation how the museum debate has changed over the last decade with the Rockefeller Foundation’s Lynn Szwaja and Tomas Ybarra-Frausto, who joined Karp and Kratz as editors of “Museum Frictions,” set the project in motion.

Kratz, a professor of anthropology and African studies, explained that much of the book’s content is drawn from conferences in New York, Buenos Aires, Cape Town and Bellagio, Italy.

She spoke of the global search for authors to fit the global scope of the book. The result — a varied cast of contributors, including scholars, artists and curators, who present case studies drawn from “every continent except Antartica” she said.

Kratz called the book “innovative with respect to content and form,” including unusual cover art and sections titled “Documents,” case studies interspersed throughout the book that illuminate issues raised in the longer essays.

For example, a “Document” from Emory alumna Krista Thompson of the Department of Art History at Northwestern University, examines an unusual collection process at a museum in the Bahamas. The Junkanoo Museum saved carnival costumes from their ritual post-parade abandonment, displayed them for a year then destroyed them to make way for the new ones, thus both interceding in and reproducing the cycle of renewal and destruction that was Junkanoo tradition.

Each essay and “Document” serves to highlight the frictions, contradictions and collaborations emerging in museums and heritage sites around the world.

“The challenge is to recognize and embrace museum frictions, with all their potential and their risk, and to find ways to work with them so as not simply to survive, but to flourish,” Karp and Kratz advise in the book’s introduction.