Cancelled 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.

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 

  1. 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).

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
Type of assessment
Portfolio, .
Length: Portfolio exam can be written individually or in groups of Max. 4 students. Portfolio exams consist of 2-7 submissions. For MA students, there is a submission more than for BA students, i.e. if the BA student has to submit five submissions, the MA students must submit six submissions. The number of submissions is set by the lecturer. The total length of all of the submissions must be max. 30,000 keystrokes for one student. For groups of two students, Max. 40,000 keystrokes. For groups of three students, Max. 45,000 keystrokes and for groups of four students, Max. 50,000 keystrokes. In the case of group assignments, the contribution of each individual student must be clearly marked in the assignment. For groups with both BA and MA students, the same number of submissions is required as for MA students. The assignments are assessed jointly with a single grade.
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


Course number
Programme level
Bachelor choice
Full Degree Master choice

1 semester

See time table
Department of Anthropology, Study Council
Contracting department
  • Department of Anthropology
Contracting faculty
  • Faculty of Social Sciences
Course Coordinators
  • Oscar Salemink   (10-733277657069716d726f446572786c7673326f7932686f)
  • Karen Waltorp   (6-6e6d71353b3643646f7870716c316e7831676e)

Oscar Salemink, Karen Waltorp

Saved on the 23-11-2021

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