Museum Ethics

MSTD A460 / A560

Spring 2006

Thursday, 5:45 – 8:25pm, HR 191



Mario A. Caro
Herron 240
735 W. New York St
Office phone:  278-9483      
Office Hours by Appointment








Please Note: This syllabus may change during the semester. All changes will be announced in class.




This course will introduce you to the current ethical concerns relevant to museums and the various audiences they serve. It will focus on the philosophical and practical dilemmas faced by exhibiting institutions in their efforts to formulate and fulfill their missions. It will pay particular attention to the relationships between the governing bodies of these institutions and their staff, their intended audiences, and the source communities which they represent. The course will also provide a historical framework tracing the development of these issues In order to contextualize the present situation.



            When you complete this course you should be able to:


  • Identify those issues that museums find most challenging in developing policy that addresses today’s ethical imperatives.
  • Develop a critique of those museum practices that fail to meet ethical standards imposed by local, national, and international professional organizations.
  • Locate resources that will help to historically contextualize and support your critique.
  • Convincingly use your writing and oral skills to communicate your findings and formulate possible solutions to the problems you have identified.
  • Lead a class discussion that will challenge students to critically analyze their responses and reconsider their conclusions.

Required Texts:


  • Anderson, Gail, ed. Reinventing the Museum: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives on the Paradigm Shift. Walnut Creek, California: AltaMira Press, 2004. [RTM]
  • Edson, Gary, ed. Museum Ethics. New York: Routledge, 1997. [ME]
  • Hein, Hilde. S. The Museum in Transition: A Philosophical Perspective. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Books, 2000, 88-107. [MIT]
  • Online Readings. [PDF]
The following is the percentage breakdown of your grades for assignments and participation.
Participation    25%
Mid-term Examination 20%
Annotated Bibliography & Thesis 15%
Research Paper 20%
Final Exam 20%

 100-95% = A   

78 - 75% = C

 94 - 92% = A-

74 - 72% = C-

91 - 89% = B+

71 - 67% = D+

88 - 85% = B

66 - 63% = D

84 - 82% = B-

62 - 59% = D-

81 - 79% = C+

59% or below = F

Format of Meetings:

Our weekly meetings will have two components: 1) the first half will be a lecture that will frame key issues in relation to the week’s topic and assigned readings and 2) the second half will be a seminar discussion in which you will raise your own critiques and questions raised by your engagement with the texts.

Weekly Readings:

               You are required to complete the specified readings by the time our class meets. Graduate students will read their assigned readings in addition to those required for the rest of the class. You should come to class prepared to discuss the readings and their relevance to our ongoing discussion. Our in-class discussion will be an opportunity for an informed investigation of the issues raised by the authors. It will also be a chance for you to critique their positions and offer alternative approaches.

               In addition to the weekly reading assignments, there are two required assignments for the course: 1) the development of an annotated bibliography and thesis statement; and 2) a research paper focused on a topic of your own choosing.

Annotated Bibliography and Thesis Statement

               As a way of defining the scope of your research you will be asked to develop an annotated bibliography with at least twenty entries. In addition, you will also write a thesis statement, based on your bibliography, as a first attempt to formulate the topic for your research paper. We will do a workshop in class on how to develop this assignment.

Research Paper

               The bibliography and thesis statement assignment will prepare you to develop a research paper that will engage an issue dealing with the ethical concerns raised by museums. It will be a topic of you own choosing and will be based on original research. In addition to a bibliography, the length of the papers should be 15-20 pages for undergraduates and 20-25 pages for graduate students. We will discuss the proper ways of citing and formatting your paper in class.

Graduate Students

               In addition to the graduate readings and the more extensive writing assignments, you will be asked to rotate in leading our seminar discussions. This means that you should come to class prepared to present your response to the readings, attempting to integrate all the readings in such a way as to open up various possibilities for inquiry. We will determine a schedule for these presentations early in the semester. These presentations count toward the “participation” portion of your grade.


               As you can see, your participation makes up a large portion of your grade (25%). It is imperative that you attend class. Therefore, it’s better to come to class unprepared than not to come at all. Attendance at all classes is mandatory and you are responsible for all lecture material. Three absences within the semester constitute automatic failure. Students who repeatedly arrive late and or leave early will be counted tardy. Three tardies equals one absence.  Missing 45 minutes of class is considered being absent.

Late paper/work policy:

               Late assignments will not be accepted. All assignments are to be submitted at the beginning of class on the date due.

Academic Misconduct

               All work in the course is conducted in accordance with the University’s academic misconduct policy. Cheating includes dishonesty of any kind with respect to exams or assignments. Plagiarism is the offering of someone else’s work as your own: this includes taking material from books, web pages, or other students, turning in the same or substantially similar work as other students, or failing to properly cite other research. Please consult the University Bulletin’s academic misconduct policy if you have any questions about what constitutes academic dishonesty.

If You Need Special Assistance:

               If you have learning problems that might require special accommodation for completion of class assignments, please notify me of these matters within the first two or three class periods. I’ll make every effort to make things work for you. You may wish to contact Adaptive Educational Services (AES), Cavanaugh Hall, Suite 001E , 425 University Blvd., Indianapolis, IN 46202–5140, Tel: (317) 274–3241, TDD/TTY: (317) 278–2050, Fax: (317) 278–2051, Email: Staff there can provide a range of assistance.

The Student Advocate Office

               Do you have a problem you don't know how to solve? Is there information you cannot find? Do you have a question that needs an answer or a problem that is affecting your class attendance? The Student Advocate Office is here to help. It will answer your questions, direct you to the appropriate departments and people, familiarize you with university policies and procedures, and give you guidance as you look at ways to solve problems and make choices. The Student Advocate Office is located in UC002 and can be contacted by phone at 278-7594 or email at For more information, see the Student Advocate website at:


                    Weekly Schedule


Week 1




Week 2


Ethics, Morality, and Institutional Integrity


Required Readings:

  • [MIT] “Museum Ethics: The Good Life of the Public Servant,” 88-107.
  • [ME] Chapter 3, “Ethics and Museums,” 36-53.
  • [RTM] Harold Skramstad, “An Agenda for Museums in the Twenty-first Century,” 118-132.



  • [PDF] Malaro, Marie C. “Exercising Oversight.” In Museum Governance: Mission, Ethics, Policy. Washington, D. C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1994.
  • American Association of Museums Code of Ethics for Museums:

  • International Council of Museums Code of Ethics for Museums:


Week 3


Caring for Objects:

Restoration, Conservation, and the Truth of Time


Required Readings:

  • [MIT] “Transcending the Object,” 51-68.
  • [ME] Chapter 14, “Ethics and Preventive Conservation,” and chapter 15, “Ethics and conservation,” 196-215.
  • [RTM] Caroline Milner, “Who Cares? Conservation in a Contemporary Context,” 297-302.



  • [PDF] Clavir, Miriam. “First Nations Perspectives on Preservation and Museums.” In Preserving What is Valued: Museums, Conservation, and First Nations. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 2002.


Week 4


Collecting: Donors, Trusts, Directors, and Curators


Required Readings:

  • [ME] Chapter 13, “Ethics and Collecting,” 187-195.
  • [RTM] Stephen Weil, “Collecting Then, Collecting Today: What’s the Difference?” 284-291.
  • [RTM] Marie C. Malaro, “Deaccessioning: The American Perspective,” 331-339.



  • [PDF] [Dubin, Margaret. “Collectors: Charity, Empathy, Matching the Sofa.” In Native America Collected: The Culture of an Art World. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2001.


Week 5


No Class 

Week 6


Museum Governance


Required Readings:

  • [ME] Chapter 6, “Ethics and the Museum Community,” 90-106.
  • [RTM] Stephen E. Weil and Earl F. Cheit, “The Well-Managed Museum,” 348-350.
  • [RTM] Willard L. Boyd, “Museum Accountability: Laws, Rules, Ethics, and Accreditation,” 351-362.



  • [RTM] John Carver, “Toward a New Governance,” 363-366.
  • [PDF] Malaro, Marie C. “The Education of Nonprofit Boards.” In Museum Governance: Mission, Ethics, Policy. Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1994.


Week 7


Physical and Intellectual Accessibility


Required Readings:

  • [MIT] “Museum Experience and the ‘Real Thing,’” 69-87.
  • [RTM] Marilyn G. Hood, “Staying Away: Why People Choose Not to Visit Museums,” 150-157.
  • [RTM] Judy Rand, “The Visitor’s Bill of Rights,” 158-159.



  • [PDF] Essay on access for disabled visitors. TBA.


Week 8



Midterm Examination

Week 9


Competing Nationalisms: The Ethics of Repatriation


Required Readings:

  • [RTM] Karen J. Warren, “A Philosophical Perspective on the Ethics and Resolution of Cultural Property Issues,” 303-324.
  • [RTM] Dan L. Monroe and Walter Echo-Hawk, “Deft Deliberations,” 325-330.



  • [PDF] Crawford, Suzanne J. “(Re)Constructing Bodies: Semiotic Sovereignty and the Debate over Kennewick Man.” In Repatriation Reader: Who Owns American Indian Remains? Ed. Devon A. Mihesuah. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2000.



Spring Recess

Week 10


Representing Cultures: The Role of Source Communities


Required Readings:

  • [MIT] “Museums and Communities,” 37-50.
  • [RTM] Claudine K. Brown, “The Museum’s Role in a Multicultural Society,” 143-149.
  • [ME] Chapter 8, “Ethics and Cultural Identity,” and chapter 9, “Ethics and Indigenous Peoples,” 129-155.



  • [PDF] Ames, Michael M. “How to Decorate a House: The Renegotiation of Cultural Representations at the University of British Columbia Museum of Anthropology.” In Museums and Source Communities: A Routledge Reader. Ed. Laura Peers and Alison K. Brown. New York: Routledge, 2003.


Assignment Due: Annotated Bibliography and Thesis Statement


Week 11


Supporting Staff: Non-Profits and Labor Practices




Required Readings:

  • [MIT] “Museums and Education,” 108-126.
  • [RTM] Mary Ellen Munley, “Is There Method in Our Madness? Improvisation in the Practice of Museum Education,” 243-247.

 [ME] Chapter 10, “Ethics and Training,” 156-165.



  • [PDF] Hooper-Greenhill, Eilean. “Exhibitions and Interpretation: Museum Pedagogy and Cultural Change.” In Museums and the Interpretation of Visual Culture. New York: Routledge, 2000.

Week 12


Marketing the Museum:

Tourism and Other Income Driven Activities


Required Readings:

  • [RTM] Kotler, Neil and Philip Kotler. “Can Museums Be All Things to All People? Missions, Goals, and Marketing’s Role,” 167-187.
  • [RTM] Stephen Weil, “Creampuffs and Hardball: Are you Really Worth What You Cost or Just Merely Worthwhile?” 343-347.



  • [Online] Jane C. Desmond, "Picturing Hawai'i: The "Ideal" Native and the Origins of Tourism, 1880-1915," Positions: East Asia Cultures Critique 7.2 (1999): 459-501  (You'll be asked to log in to access this article.)


Week 13


The Museum as Archive


Required Readings:

  • [RTM] Lisa G. Corrin, “Mining the Museum: An Installation Confronting History,” 248-256.
  • [PDF] J Sweeney,. Gray. “Racism, Nationalism, and Nostalgia.” In Race-ing Art History: Critical Readings in Race and Art History. Ed. Kimberly N. Pinder. New York: Routledge, 2002.



  • [PDF] Phillips, Ruth B. “A Proper Place for Art or the Proper Arts of Place? Native North American Objects and the Hierarchies of Art, Craft, and Souvenir.” In On Aboriginal Representation in the Gallery. Ed. Lynda Jessup and Shannon Bagg. Hull, Quebec: Canadian Museum of Civilization, 2002, 45-72.


Week 14


Curating as Self-criticism


Required Readings:

  • [PDF] Dubin, Steven C. “Battle Royal: The Final Mission of the Enola Gay.” In Displays of Power: Controversy in the American Museum from the Enola Gay to Sensation.” New York: New York University Press, 1999.
  • [RTM] Kathleen McLean, “Museum Exhibitions and the Dynamics of Dialogue,” 193-211.



    • [PDF] Luke, Timothy W. “Politics at the Exhibition: Aesthetics, History, and Nationality in the Culture Wars.” In Museum Politics: Power Plays at the Exhibition. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2002.


    Assignment Due: Final Draft of Research Paper.


Week 15


Final Examination