Conference Alert: Museum Ethics

From H-Museum:

Museum Ethics
Museum of World Cultures, Gothenburg, Sweden
3 December 2008

Museion invites you to participate in a meeting planned for Wednesday 3 December 2008 in the Museum of World Cultures, Gothenburg, Sweden relating to various aspects of Museum Ethics. While many of you will be familiar with the ICOM Code of Ethics for Museums that generally reflects the principles accepted by the international museum community, there are still many areas of museum practice that require professionals to think much more deeply; there are some specific issues where the ICOM Code fails to provide sufficient detail because it sets only 'minimum standards'.

We have designed a day event which explores some specific ethical concerns, utilising experiences from within and outside Sweden. We have placed a focus on the ethical dilemmas that museums face in terms of dealing with problematical object (human remains;sacred objects); representation in exhibitions; environmental and sustainability concerns; and illicit trade. The programme is outlined in the attached document. You will note from the programme that we have included a 'workshop' session in order that all participants can make their views and opinions - and any new initiatives in dealing with ethical considerations - more widely known. Although most of the programme will be delivered in English, the workshop discussions can take place in Swedish. I do hope that you will be able to join us for what will be a fascinating day, and an opportunity to share experiences with a wide group of museum professionals in Sweden; if you know of colleagues who you feel may be interested in attending, please pass this information on to them.

On a practical note, Museion will provide teas and coffeee, but not lunch. However the Museum's restaurant 'Tabla' does good lunches, and we would be grateful if you could, in your reply to this e-mail, state whether you would like to eat at Tabla.

We hope that you will join us for this meeting. Could you please confirm your attendance by sending an e-mail to Staffan Lunden ( no later than Thursday 20 November. We look forward to welcoming you to Museion on the 3 December 2008.

We look forward to an informative and productive day.

With good wishes,

Professor Peter Davis
Guest Professor of Museology
Göteborg University
Box 111, SE 405 30
+46 (0)31 786 5815

Staffan Lundén
Göteborgs Universitet
Box 111
SE 405 30 Sweden



Museum Forum Meeting - Wednesday 3 December 2008

Museum Ethics

10.00 Welcome and coffee

10.30 Introduction to the meeting
Peter Davis, Guest Professor, Museion

10.35 Museums and the ethics of human remains and sacred objects
Malcolm Chapman, The Manchester Museum, UK

In 2006 the Manchester Museum started development of a new Policy on Human Remains. Following on from an earlier successful consultation process around its Acquisition and Disposal Policy the museum decided to open up the draft policy to widespread public consultation. This allowed other museums, scientists, archaeologists, faith and community groups as well general museum visitors to express their views and contribute to the final policy. The consultation process ran for six months and elicited a wide range of strong opinions. What was unexpected was the response from some sectors of the scientific community who viewed the proposed policy as an attack on science itself.

Following on from this the Museum opened a temporary exhibition entitled Lindow Man: a bog body mystery. Content for the exhibition had been developed following a process of consultation with various interest groups. At the same time the Museum began a process of consultation with visitors regarding the display of Ancient Egyptian human remains.

This presentation examines the Museum's approach, the controversies arising from it and where the Museum goes from there in developing an ethical approach to the display and uses of ancient human remains and associated artefacts.

Malcolm Chapman has been Head of Collections Development and Registrar at The Manchester Museum, The University of Manchester since 2000. His wide-ranging role encompasses all aspects of collections management as well as improving and increasing user access to the collection, including new technologies and media such as YouTube. He is responsible for development and implementation of all collection-related policies including human remains and acquisition and disposal. Working regionally he sits on the Renaissance North West Collections For The Future Steering Group and chairs the Roman Heritage Working Group improving access to and use of the region's collections. He has a Masters degree in Art Gallery and Museum Studies from the University of Manchester and regularly lectures on this programme on topics ranging from human remains, policy development, collections management and digital heritage. Before working in Manchester he was at The British Museum for eleven years working in collections management, developing a collections management system and cataloguing medieval archaeology collections.

11.0 The ethics of representation in museum exhibitions: cases from the
Paula dos Santos, The Reinwardt Academie, Amsterdam

What does it mean for a museum to operate in an increasingly multicultural
and globalized city? Museums in large cities in the Netherlands, as in other
countries in Europe and worldwide, have to face the new dilemmas of the 21st
Century. Issues of cultural representation, gender representation, and
others, signal what Pierre Nora once referred to as 'the internal
decolonization of societies'. They can have a great impact in museum
practice and discourse, and are key elements in the discussions about
ethical conduct and decision-making in exhibitions.

In addressing this subject, one also finds the dilemmas of representation to
be intimately related to the actual discussions about the social role of
museums, to their responsibility towards different stakeholders, to issues
of accountability, authority and even authenticity.

This presentation explores this combination of societal context and museum's
social role as fundamental aspects for setting and conditioning principles
on which ethical decisions are taken. By means of two case studies from
museum exhibitions in the Netherlands, it will be possible to discuss issues
such as: are there limits for freedom of expression in art exhibitions? Is
it possible to balance the respect for the various stakeholders' beliefs and
expectations in an exhibition? How will museums cope with the different
principles of a multicultural, inclusive society and their political

Paula dos Santos teaches theoretical museology, sociomuseology and ethics at
the Reinwardt Academy of Cultural Heritage, Amsterdam. She is also project
co-ordinator for the Culturalia Foundation and advisor for heritage and
network-related projects in Portuguese speaking countries. She is a member
of the board of the Movement for a New Museology (MINOM).

11.45 Illicit antiquities, capitalism and sponsorship: ethical

Market demand for archaeological objects generates widespread looting and
destruction of archaeological sites around the world. This presentation of
the ethical considerations of this phenomena focuses on two case studies
where museums actively contributed to this destruction by legitimising the
trade in unprovenanced - that is, presumably looted - archaeological

The first case concerns the antiquities fair Grand Antiques held biannually
at Nordiska Museet, Stockholm. At this fair unprovenanced Chinese
archaeological objects are sold. The presentation will counter the museum's
reasons for allowing this fair in the museum. It appears that their
justification lies within a nationalistic agenda according to which the
museum needs only to be concerned about the protection of "Swedish" national
heritage. Seemingly the museum denies any responsibility for how its
activities may affect the heritage of "foreign" countries. Is this ethically

The second case which will be explored concerns a museum exhibition held at
the Palace Museum in Beijing in 2005. The exhibition, which was sponsored by
Volvo, displayed objects from the Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities in
Stockholm, the Röhsska Museum, Göteborg, the Göteborg City Museum, the
Göteborg Maritime Museum and a Gothenburg antiquities dealer,. The case is
of interest not only because of how these museums became involved in helping
a dealer in antiquities to promote his business, but also because it
provides a clear-cut example of the dangers of private sponsorship and of
how history can be manipulated. Through the exhibition Volvo sought to
create a particular vision of Chinese-Swedish relations in history in order
to promote the sale of its trucks on the Chinese market. This is a worst
case scenario, one where history is written - and museums manipulated - in
the board rooms of private companies to serve their commercial interests.

Both examples raise a number of questions regarding politics, power
relations, professional responsibility and museum ethics.

Staffan Lundén is a PhD. student at the Department of Archaeology and
History at Gothenburg University. He conducts research on the illicit trade
in antiquities and its relationship to museum ethics. He also teaches on the
Masters programme in International Museum Studies at Museion, Gothenburg

12.30 LUNCH (available at Tabla, Museum of World Culture, or at local

13.30 Environmental ethics and museums
Peter Davis, Museion, Gothenburg University

Sweden was in the vanguard of thinking about environmental issues, taking a
lead in organizing the first UN conference on the environment in Stockholm
in 1972. Since then the country has continued to promote sustainable
environmental solutions, and in 1999 the Swedish Parliament adopted 16
environmental quality objectives, and the 'Swedish Environmental Code' that
demands impact assessments for new development; these consider impacts not
only on humans, animals, soils, water and air, but also the cultural
environment. The goal is a sustainable society in which future generations
will be able to meet their needs at least as fully as present generations.

Despite these measures the latest review of progress (2008) made towards
achieving the environmental goals by 2020 - the target date - makes gloomy
reading. Nature's capacity for recovery, the ambitious nature of the
targets, globalization impacts on Swedish society and lack of implementation
of policies are all cited as reasons for the lack of progress. It appears
that although the environmental ethic is strong in Sweden, achieving goals
is difficult.

So how might Swedish museums assist in delivering, or react to, the 16 goals
- indeed, can they play any role at all? How might environmental ethics
impact on museum activities and could museums do more to operate in a
sustainable fashion? How have museums worldwide reacted to the demands of
the environmental ethic and are there models of good practice that we can
learn from? Can we promote environmentally sensitive actions in our
exhibitions and how might our organization respond ethically and practically
to environmental needs?

Peter Davis is Professor of Museology at the International Centre for
Cultural and Heritage Studies at Newcastle University, UK, and Guest
Professor at Museion, Göteborg University. He has worked as an ecologist and
as a biological curator, and has a particular interest in the ways museums
have responded to the demands of the environmental movement. He is the
author of Museums and the Natural Environment (1996) and Ecomuseums: a sense
of place (1999).

14.00 Working Group discussions - ethical issues in Swedish museums -
dealing with the challenges (*see additional sheet to find your group*).

15.00 Tea/Coffee

15.30 Feedback from the working groups and discussion of the key issues

16.00 Meeting closes.


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