CALL FOR PAPERS ICOM / ICMAH Annual International Conference 2010

Shanghai, November 8 - November 10, 2010 Original-Copy-Fake: On the Significance of the Object in History and Archaeology Museums organized by ICOM’s International Committee of Museums and Collection of Archaeology and History ICMAH in cooperation with the Committee for Museums of Archaeology and Sites ¨ of the Chinese Society of Museums CMAS-CSM

“Original - Copy – Fake: On the significance of the object in history and archaeology museums” is the independent conference of ICMAH, ICOM’s International Committee for Museums and Collections of Archaeology and History. It will take place in the context of the ICOM General Conference Shanghai 2010. As one of ICOM’s oldest and largest committees, ICMAH in recent years has taken on the particular mission of examining the public and political status of museums in present times ( ICMAH is delighted to be organising the 2010 Shanghai Conference in cooperation with CMAS-CSM.

ICMAH Shanghai 2010 will be dedicated to the issues involved in working in historical and archaeological museums today, under presentation of the theme Original - Copy – Fake: On the significance of the object in history and archaeology museums – with a programme that addresses the current issues and awareness of the international ICOM audience.

Starting points and objectives of the conference

“Culture of the copy” is the title of a study on the culture of the present launched more than a decade ago by American cultural studies expert Hillel Schwartz. The core theory of this research, which has in the meantime become a “classic”, postulates that in a comprehensive sense our societies are characterised by a “culture of reproduction” that permeates all our areas of life from culture via the media to the natural and life sciences. In this “culture of reproduction”, the image becomes an icon of a culture of the same, a “cloning culture”.

This is and should not be the place to elaborate to what extent Schwartz’s thesis is truly applicable in its totality. But it is a logical and continuative starting point for raising some issues at the 2010 Shanghai ICMAH Conference.

The 2010 ICMAH Conference focuses on an aspect of museum practice that has to date not been the centre of a reflective interest, but is nevertheless very significant for the self-understanding of its own work, namely the dimensions of medial reproduction in museums. In other words: what exactly is the approach to copies and their use in exhibitions and other forms of display?

To what extent is the work in exhibitions and museums, which after all involves the storing and display of the original object, characterised by a “culture of the copy”? And does this approach to copies embody a contradiction with regard to the responsibilities of history and archaeology museums? What role do copies assume in exhibitions and presentations? Is it possible that they prompt an increase in awareness that is not always achievable in this form with originals?

It is important at this stage to remember that the use of copies has a long tradition in museums. Wilhelm von Humboldt, for instance, one of the “forefathers” of the museum concept during the early 19th century, not only defended the use of copies (plaster casts of antique statues, etc.), but actually actively encouraged it. While he did want the spatial separation of original and copy, in order to be able to provide visual access, he felt it was of secondary importance whether this involved an original or a copy. The claim that a museum bears the responsibility to be educational was thus already established as long as 200 years ago. And where are we at today? What significance and function do original and copy have with regard to the duty of a museum to educate and convey knowledge?

The objective of the ICMAH Conference is to contribute to a future systematic contemplation of the original and the copy and to provide interested fellow museum experts with an opportunity to engage in a more in-depth exchange of their experiences in this area of museum work.

The focus will be on these draft contexts, divided into the following four sections:

1. The copy as an exhibit: “representative” or “educational tool”?

This introductory section raises the question of the fundamental significance and possibilities of expression of copies in history museums and exhibitions. By using a selection of “good practice” examples, this is an opportunity for a more in-depth assessment of the relation between an original and a copy. (To what extent) can the copy become a true representative of the original? Is it possible to achieve congruity between original and copy? Does the copy always fall short of the original, is it merely an auxiliary tool? Or does it maybe also open up new possibilities?

2. Loss of the “aura” of the original?

In his analysis “Das Kunstwerk im Zeitalter seiner technischen Reproduzierbarkeit” (“The work of art in times of technical reproducibility”), German philosopher Walter Benjamin formulated the dictum that a work of art, through its aura, assumes a stand-alone and unique position. Even if it were to be reproduced a thousand times, ultimately these reproductions could never assume the aura of the original. To this day, the cultural sciences have been impregnated by this dictum. But what is the approach when it comes to historical objects and their reproductions? Is this aura even necessary? To what extent do we work with it? Can and should reproductions maybe acquire an aura after all? These questions underlie that of the role of objects in history exhibitions.

3. Endless reproduction

As museum visitors, we have long become used to the fact that a museum’s key objects or works of art can be found in endless reproductions and variations on a website, in publications or in a museum shop – such as Raphael’s Angel for instance, which features as a popular theme on cushions, T-shirts, pinafores, etc. or the various Mona Lisa displays in the shop of the Paris Louvre, which enjoyed renewed popularity following Dan Brown’s bestseller “Da Vinci Code”.

Museums themselves thus also actively change the status and significance of original objects. What do they actually achieve by doing this? Does this result in a devaluation of the objects? Or, on the contrary, does this increase their value? Are such strategies able to be separated from the approach towards objects in exhibitions?

4. Archaeological displays of original versus copy

This year’s ICMAH Conference is deliberately dedicating an entire section to archaeological museums and exhibitions. This is where in particular and since time immemorial the copy has occupied and still occupies a high place value: be it that copies of excavations, wall paintings, etc. replace valuable and fragile originals in situ, while the latter are accommodated in an – often purpose-built – museum (see Pompeii or the Lascaux Cave, which for conservation reasons was rebuilt on a 1:1 scale), or that the copy replaces the original that has survived only in fragments.

This section aims to present current examples of archaeological presentations. The question will also be examined as to whether in history or archaeology exhibitions there are fundamental differences in practice or whether the approach towards original and copy is mostly shared?

Language(s) of the conference: English (– eventually Chinese: simultaneous translation)

We invite you to support our ICOM / ICMAH Shanghai Conference 2010 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 ICOM / ICMAH Shanghai 2010 Project Coordinator
Kong Li-Ning (Emperor Qin Shihuang's Terra-cotta Army 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 March 2010 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).


Popular Posts