Material and Visual Culture: Critical and practical anthropological approaches to museums and heritage

Course content

Anthropology deals with material, visual and practical dimensions of life, yet its products are mostly academic texts. What is generated if anthropologists make products in more modalities and registers than academic texts; if anthropologists study and disseminate as embodied researchers? One fast-growing field where anthropologists increasingly develop their scholarship, find employment and reach out to wider audiences is museums and heritage sites. More and more anthropologists are employed at museums and heritage sites, which in the present times of cultural complexity increasingly demand the critical theoretical approaches offered by anthropologists: Anthropologists whose practice, ethnographic methods and critical insights go beyond textual formats, and engages with exhibition-making based on material objects, panels, exhibition books and flyers, videos, podcasts, etc. Anthropology graduates, however, are held back by the impression that museums and heritage sites are stale and/or old-fashioned, and hence unworthy of their intellectual endeavor; but dated museum exhibits or heritage complex could constitute an opportunity for critical, practical and visual input by anthropologists. Much political friction and socio-cultural battles of our present times center around what heritage is, and who is to define it. We invite students to be critically and practically engaged in this field.

In this course students will learn about both critical and practical aspects of the anthropology of museums and heritage:

  1. Students will learn about the critical anthropological approaches through a cross-reading of contemporary work within the anthropology of museums and heritage, in connection with neighboring disciplines (history, cultural studies) and with social science classics. The outcome will be a firm grounding in the critical theoretical literature on museums and heritage.
  2. Students will learn about the practical aspects of museum and heritage work through small group projects involving research and communication based at museums or heritage sites. The outcomes of these practical engagements would be in formats that could be potentially useful for the sites where the projects take place, e.g. small-scale basic museum or heritage research, an exhibition text, a small video, a podcast. This development of the project and its final product would form part of the portfolio. The outcome would be knowledge of the various skills and competencies as well as of the various formats needed for effective museum and heritage work.
  3. Students will learn the basics about multimodality, and the visual anthropological approach through a short crash course by a trained and accomplished visual anthropologist. They will reflect on perception, visual culture and representation, while approaching the field and thinking with a camera.

Eventually, this course might prepare interested students for MA research in and on museums or heritage sites, and potentially prepare for a final thesis (‘speciale’) in the form of a ‘different communication product’ (anderledes formidlingsprodukt).




The teaching in spring 2021 will be online until the 1. of April due to the Covid19 situation.

As soon as it is permitted and justifiable, it is up to the individual lecturer whether to transition to a blended format or wish to continue with full online teaching for the rest of the semester.

The individual lecturer will inform you of the above choice in the Absalon room for each course.

Courses with oral exams will be held online if the relevant restrictions have not been lifted at least four weeks before the individual exam. This will be notified in Absalon.

Courses with written exams will not experience any changes in relation to the normal exam form.

Learning outcome

Knowledge:   The final portfolio is expected to demonstrate, by way of one or more communication products and a clearly structured, well written, and lucidly argued set of texts, that the student is capable of:

  • demonstrating knowledge of and insight into the anthropological literature concerning questions of heritage and museums as well as related topics


Skills:   The final portfolio is expected to demonstrate, by way of a communication product and a clearly structured, well written, and lucidly argued set of texts, that the student is capable of:

  • demonstrating the capacity to carry out small-scale research in a selected heritage site or museum
  • demonstrating the capacity to carry out a small-scale group project in a selected heritage site or museum
  • writing critical academic texts as well as outcomes in a format that is suitable for and potentially usable by a museum or heritage site, in particular audio-visual formats.


Competences:   The student is expected to be able to:

  • contribute practically and orally to discussions on the theme of the lecture course in the seminars
  • work together in a group with other students and provide mutual feedback
  • incorporate feedback from others
  • work effectively in a (museum or heritage) work environment
  • demonstrate their ability to read and understand the course literature by regularly uploading the required ‘postings’ to their portfolio on the Absalon course website
  • Trying out- and reflecting on the uses of audio-visual means in this field

• Seminars with proactive student participation in the form of presentations, discussions and feedback
• Small research projects in or with reference to museums or heritage sites or practices
• Limited internships in museums and/or heritage sites, if available

Reading list will be uploaded in Absalon.

Continuous feedback during the course of the semester
  • Written feedback through online portfolio
  • Oral feedback in seminars and potentially through internships at museums or heritage sites
Type of assessment
Portfolio, .
Portfolio exam:
Length: The portfolio exam can be taken individually or in groups of maximum four students. The portfolio exam consists of 3-7 submissions. The number of submissions is set by the lecturer. The total length of all of the submissions must not exceed 30,000 keystrokes for a single student. For groups of two students the maximum is 40,000 keystrokes. For groups of three students the maximum is 45,000 keystrokes and for groups of four students the maximum is 50,000 keystrokes.
Marking scale
7-point grading scale
Censorship form
No external censorship
Criteria for exam assessment

See learning outcome.

  • Category
  • Hours
  • Lectures
  • 42
  • Preparation
  • 202
  • Project work
  • 142
  • Exam
  • 28
  • English
  • 414