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This event will bring together educators, researchers, and museum professionals to explore innovative approaches to rethinking narratives in museums and history education. The symposium aims to foster dialogue and exchange of ideas on critical issues surrounding historical representation and interpretation.

The symposium will feature a plenary session with international keynote speakers, followed by interactive workshops. Confirmed speakers include Robbert-Jan Adriaansen from the Center of Historical Culture at the Erasmus University Rotterdam, Melanie Rowntree from the Pitt Rivers Museum, Hester Dibbits from the Reinwardt Academy, and Esther van Zutphen from the Wereldmuseum. These experts will share insights on current practices and future directions in museum labelling and historical narratives and provide hands-on workshops to share practical examples of how to address contested narratives, labels and objects in museums.

You can find the detailed programme on the following link.

Description of the workshops:

Melanie Rowntree (Pitt Rivers Museum) will introduce the Labelling Matters project at the Pitt Rivers, spearheaded by Dr Marenka Thompson Odlum, a project which aims to rethink the ethics of representations within the Pitt Rivers Museum galleries and digital spaces. The project is part of a long-running programme of work to rethink the Museum’s relevance in the contemporary world. Care for objects and people stands central to the Museum’s ambition.  This project aims to identify areas of improvement and to trial ways of changing our public texts where derogatory and other problematic language is used. While they are still on display, these labels have the potential to undermine the Museum’s ambition to be an inclusive and welcoming space. Melanie Rowntree, part of the Learning team at the museum, will outline how this project has informed a redevelopment of teaching in the museum at both school and university levels and share some of the activities that form part of this teaching, using objects from the museum’s handling collection and labels from the museum’s displays. Participants will be encouraged to consider who is being represented and who is representing when we use language to ‘explain’ objects and the people who owned them.

Hester Dibbits (Reinwardt Academy) will explore the technique of emotion networking. Emotion networking is a conversational method focused on understanding others and exploring alternative points of view rather than seeking a shared conclusion or compromise. Originating from heritage work, this approach emphasizes that if heritage reflects who we are and aspire to be, then everyone’s voice should be heard in its interpretation and choices. When applied to heritage items or objects, emotion networking fosters “heritage wisdom.” This concept recognizes that the meanings we attach to both material and immaterial objects are fluid and diverse. Heritage wisdom acknowledges that heritage is not a given but a choice, shaped through ongoing negotiation and inclusive conversations. Heritage-wise citizens are capable of making heritage issues a topic for discussion by considering their own and others’ interests and emotions. The competencies developed through emotion networking and heritage wisdom are invaluable in contemporary debates about identity and identification. They help build connections and counteract division, polarization, and echo chambers. The term “emotion networking” was coined in 2014 by Marlous Willemsen (Imagine IC) and Hester Dibbits (Reinwardt Academy). In this interactive workshop, Hester Dibbits will introduce the emotion networking method and facilitate a session, allowing participants to experience and practice the approach firsthand.

Ilaria Obata and Esther van Zutphen (Wereldmuseum) will explore the current fixes the Wereldmuseum is doing in its permanent gallery. One of the aims of these quick fixes is to get rid of labels that we believe are not suitable anymore. Why is it important to review labels attached to objects or showcases explaining a theme or a group of objects? This workshop will unravel how the Wereldmuseum addressed this process of change. As a group, we will investigate a couple of labels that are or used to be in the museum. We will discuss how these labels could be received by different groups of visitors. Do they convey the message we want to send? Are they in line with the mission of the museum? Most importantly, what impact do they have on our visitors? Then, there might also be people affected by the labels that are not very likely to visit the museum. Do we need to take their point of view into account? And if so, how do we do this? After dismantling the selected labels, we are going to rewrite a couple of them. Participants of the workshop will be provided with a list of terms and interchangeable definitions. We will discuss the obstacles that you’ve met during this process. And what do you need to rewrite labels in a responsible way?


September 13
9:30 am - 5:00 pm
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Wereldmuseum Leiden
1B Steenstraat
Leiden, 2312BS Netherlands
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