Conference Alert/CFP: Museums and Disasters

From H-Museum:


"Museums and Disasters"
ICOM / ICMAH Annual Conference 2008
New Orleans
12-16 November, 2008

Organized by ICOM's International Committee of Museums and Collections of Archaeology and History (ICMAH) and The Louisiana State Museum, New Orleans/ USA and The Historic New Orleans Collection


This conference will explore the various ways in which museums document and interpret the direct and indirect effects on society of natural, economic, and military disasters. It will be held in a city that suffered a devastating flood in 2005 that killed 1,464 people and where recovery has been painfully slow. Special emphasis at the conference will be on recent history/contemporary events. Speakers will address four interrelated themes to explore the conference topic.

The ethics of collecting and interpreting disasters. What special ethical issues face museum professionals as they seek to document and interpret disasters? For example, who holds legitimate title to artifacts (clothing, personal effects, or wreckage) collected from disaster sites by museum professionals or others? At what point does the display of human suffering in the museum cross the line between education and exploitation? Should museums display people's images without their permission or that of their families? Is the display of human remains a legitimate interpretive strategy (e.g. Cambodia's Killing Fields Memorial)?

Establishing the truth. Whose perspective prevails in the interpretation of disasters in museums? Is it the perspective of victims and their families, government, the media, or that of "experts" (historians, scientists, social scientists, etc.)? Is it possible to present multiple perspectives? Do museums have an obligation to make clear to visitors that all interpretations are ultimately subjective? What is the role of politics in the interpretation of disasters; are there stories that museums simply cannot present, or cannot present fairly, for fear of reprisal? Ultimately, is the museum's version of events reliable; is it believable?

What's the message? Why do museums interpret disasters in the first place? Is it to simply document or commemorate a horrific event, the loss of life? Or are there other agendas driving the process, such as the desire to influence decision making, to bring about change, in the present and in the future? For example, museums in Hiroshima and Nagasaki dedicated to the atomic bombing of those cities emphasize the importance of international peace and nuclear disarmament.

Exhibition design. What are the most effective strategies for engaging visitors intellectually and emotionally in the story of a disaster? Should museums rely on the eloquence of artifacts alone to bear witness and carry the storyline? How effective are first-person accounts presented via video or oral history? Are theatrical settings, computer animations, and other high-tech approaches most likely to appeal to visitors? How do we determine the success of these different approaches?


We invite you to support our annual ICMAH 2008 conference with suggestions of how we, as museum professionals, do and should carry out the professional responsibilities placed upon us.

The challenges and problems outlined above will be studied by means of keynotes, panel contributions and case studies from actual museum and exhibition work of recent years.

Marie-Paule Jungblut, President of ICMAH, Rosmarie Beier-de Haan, Secretary General of ICMAH, and David Kahn, Director of the Louisiana State Museum invite all ICOM members to attend and actively participate in three days of professional exchange and discussion.

Please submit any suggestions for talks and presentations of case studies by 31 May 2008 to: and

The length of abstracts should not exceed 250 words.
Please also ensure that you indicate your role in the submitted project and include your contact address and all professional details (name, position, address, telephone and fax numbers, email).

Marie-Paule Jungblut
c/o Musée d'Histoire de la Ville de Luxembourg
L-2090 Luxembourg

Tel : +352 4796-4562
Fax : +352 47 17 07
E-mail :

David Kahn
Louisiana State Museum
P.O. Box 2448
New Orleans, La. 70176
Tel: +1 504-568-6967


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