Accepted paper:

The promise of the museum


Rosalie Hans (University of Nottingham)

Paper short abstract:

The heritage for development discourse has created a belief in the 'power of culture for development', impacting on museum development across the African continent. This paper explores why the museum is viewed as a vehicle for economic, social and cultural benefits and proposes alternative concepts.

Paper long abstract:

In the last ten years many community-based museums have been established in Uganda and Kenya and there are many more planned by national authorities and civic society organisations. While this growth coincides with a global increase and diversification in museums, it is the impact of the heritage for development discourse promoted by organisations such as UNESCO and ICOM that has led to unrealistic expectations of museums that often remain unfulfilled. Despite a lack of evidence that the recently established museums are able to live up to the promises of economic, social and cultural development, they remain the go-to solution for policymakers and development practitioners who want to integrate culture in their projects. The current assumptions about the museum as panacea for numerous challenges from conflict resolution to language preservation are overwrought and the construction of museums as a secondary activity to larger development programmes is often unsustainable considering the continued financial support museums need to function. The museum is conceptualised as a vehicle for development in the current discourse, but this severely limits the roles that museums can play in the narration and visibility of local heritage. Examples from grass-roots museums will introduce alternative possibilities to the promise of the museum. This paper explores not just the problematic expectations of museums currently held by the heritage field in Africa and beyond, but also suggests that alternative concepts of museum-making could make them more relevant and beneficial to the audiences they are intended to serve.

panel O3
History and development: practicing the past in pursuit of 'progress'