Blog Archive

Reflections on my Methodology and Conclusions

Victoria Bishop Kendzia, Berlin, June 2020

I thought it might be helpful to future readers to share my impressions of an online lecture and discussion I was invited to give and moderate recently.

It was part of a class and the Frei Universität Berlin.  Most of the students were in public history, some in Jewish Studies. The instructor mentioned having come across Visitors sort of by accident and was happy to have done so.

She then assigned the final concluding chapter to her students.  This chapter is trying to find a way toward a more inclusive culture of memory: one that does not marginalize Berliners of non-German background and/or stigmatize Muslims in Germany, especially, as not belonging to the national community. The research situations exposed that they were all too often seen as not being part of the conversation on this topic were even cast as a threat to it, in the form of being the new (and only?) anti-Semites.

What she found most compelling in the book were two things:

  1. The grounded methodology in which I clearly position myself within the research.  I did and do not claim to be a disinterested “fly on the wall” when it comes to the collection of the material.  This transparency is key to bringing the readers into the museum and fostering empathy between them, myself, and most importantly, the participants in the study.  All too often in research, the methodological lie of being somehow completely unbiased and free of pre-existing ideas and assumptions is told in a misguided attempt to appear objective.  I argued that no one is ever not positioned.  It is, therefore, crucial to first be aware of this and then to reflect on how this might co-constitute the material one collects and the conclusions one draws.

    Only then, is the research truly transparent.  Objectivity, to the degree that it is possible, is achieved through systematic collection and analyses, which are then challenged and checked (not only with other scholars working on similar topics) but also, and arguably even more importantly, with the participants in the study itself.  This transparency, in turn, allows the readers to know where the research and researcher is coming from and judge the conclusions for themselves.

  2. Another point the instructor mentioned was that this book is about what actually happens on the ground in the museum, in the schools and beyond over time and focusses on understanding the situations as they occur.  This, in turn, exposes the complexity of visiting behaviours and the various interactions in and around the museum.

It is not accident, I believe, that the instructor chose the final chapter for her class.  It is here that everything comes together.  Indeed, the book has a gradual build up toward the most problematic issues that emerged during the research process.  I have kept it this way deliberately, as this is how I, myself, experienced it.  I very much wanted and want the readers to join me along this path from my first steps in the museum and contact in the schools to the difficulties encountered along the way to the critical, but not jaded, view I finally came to adopt.

The discussion with the students in this Frei Universität class was quite heartening as the main concern was how to mitigate against the mechanisms of exclusion made visible in the book.  I found this especially encouraging as it is very likely that students such as those who took part in this discussion make up the present and future carriers and narrators of this memory.

Victoria Bishop Kendzia is a teaching fellow at Humboldt University, Berlin. Her publications include “‘Jewish’ Ethnic Options in Germany between Attribution and Choice: Auto-Ethnographical Reflections at the Jewish Museum Berlin” in the Anthropological Journal of European Cultures. She completed her doctorate at Humboldt’s Institute of European Ethnology.

Identity and Political Education at the Jewish Museum Berlin
Victoria Bishop Kendzia

“Provides an inspiring approach at a time when generational and societal changes call for the emendation of well-established patterns of memory and remembrance.” • German Studies Review

As one of the most visited museums in Germany’s capital city, the Jewish Museum Berlin is a key site for understanding not only German-Jewish history, but also German identity in an era of unprecedented ethnic and religious diversity. Visitors to the House of Memory is an intimate exploration of how young Berliners experience the Museum. How do modern students relate to the museum’s evocative architecture, its cultural-political context, and its narrative of Jewish history? By accompanying a range of high school history students before, during, and after their visits to the museum, this book offers an illuminating exploration of political education, affect, remembrance, and belonging.


The Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History’s Virtual Tour

A Review by Diana E. Marsh

As of May 5, 2020, the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History’s (NMNH) virtual tour had been viewed by over one million online visitors. The 3D tour allows users to navigate through exhibit spaces, read texts, and view specimens. Users tap or click their way through the museums’ halls using virtual arrows along the floor of the galleries, or swipe to rotate up to 360° in one spot. They can also use a virtual floorplan to move into spaces of their choice.


Why Is It Necessary to Include the Gender Perspective in Archaeological Museums?: Some Examples from Spanish Museums

by Lourdes Prados Torreira

Archaeological museums in the twenty-first century carry a clear responsibility toward society today. They necessarily aspire to become open spaces in which the many different social groups that make up our citizenship are represented. These must be spaces that reflect the diversity in our society, places that host the history of the different age and gender groups and that, ultimately, have the capacity for transmitting the collective memory of a community (Merriman 1999; Sørensen 1999). In such spaces, no individual should feel excluded on the grounds of gender, age, race, religion, social group, sexual choice, and so on. Museums, in short, are under the obligation to play a key role in education toward equality (Izquierdo Peraile et al. 2014; Prados Torreira et al. 2013). Broadly speaking, however, it can be observed that in the majority of archaeological museums an expositive discourse is used to project the present into the past, causing women to become invisible or assigning little value to the activities associated with them. These are places where objects in the collections that are supposedly manufactured by males are exhibited in a repetitive manner, casting no uncertainty on such ascriptions. As a result, androcentric stereotypes are conveyed and reflected, in most cases without any scientific grounding. Not only are spaces dedicated to women in archaeological museums usually limited to domestic settings, but in addition these essential tasks relating to the care and sustenance of the group, for which we use the collective term “maintenance activities” (González Marcén et al. 2008; Montón Subías 2010; Prados Torreira forthcoming a; Prados Torreira and López Ruiz forthcoming b), are not looked on as being of any importance.


“Ceremonies of Renewal”: Visits, Relationships, and Healing in the Museum Space

by Laura Peers

Figure 1. Blackfoot shirt with painted war honors, acquired 1841 by Sir George Simpson and Edward Hopkins. Elk or deer hide, sinew, human hair, horse hair, paint. Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford, 1893.67.1.

In 2010, the Pitt Rivers Museum at Oxford (PRM) loaned five historic Blackfoot shirts (figure 1) to the Glenbow and Galt museums in Alberta, Canada. The project team1 held handling sessions at each museum, enabling over five hundred Blackfoot people to see and touch the shirts, unmediated by glass cases. Collected in 1841, and decorated with porcupine quillwork, paint, and human and horse hairlocks, the shirts are important heritage objects. For Blackfoot people,2 they are also ancestors, embodying the spirits of those who made and used the shirts. Having been absent so long from their communities—along with nearly all hairlock shirts, which were collected during the colonial era—their presence and multisensory engagements with them provoked powerful responses.


“Teotihuacan: City of Water, City of Fire” is now at San Francisco’s de Young Museum

House of the WaterlilyThe 1,000-year-old former Mesoamerican city, Teotihuacan, is on display at the de Young Museum in San Francisco and, after Feb. 11, at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. The de Young Museum provides an interactive digital story about the major exhibition, “Teotihuacan: City of Water, City of Fire”. To celebrate, we’re presenting our new title: HOUSE OF THE WATERLILY: A Novel of the Ancient Maya World by Kelli Carmean


Museums and Collections Series from Berghahn

We are pleased to announce new and forthcoming titles in our Museums and Collections series.

As houses of memory and sources of information about the world, museums function as a dynamic interface between past, present and future. Museum collections are increasingly being recognized as material archives of human creativity and as invaluable resources for interdisciplinary research. Museums provide powerful forums for the expression of ideas and are central to the production of public culture: they may inspire the imagination, generate heated emotions and express conflicting values in their material form and histories. This series explores the potential of museum collections to transform our knowledge of the world, and for exhibitions to influence the way in which we view and inhabit that world. It offers essential reading for those involved in all aspects of the museum sphere: curators, researchers, collectors, students and the visiting public.

Get 25% off all volumes featured in the series until the end of the year by entering the code MAC17 at checkout.

Related titles can be found on our website.

The Wende Museum Reopens!

The Wende Museum of the Cold War is an art museum, historical archive, and educational institution in Culver City, California. As of November 2017, the museum has reopened in a 1949 former national guard armory. To celebrate its reopening, we’ve compiled a list of Wende books below:


Berlin Divided City, 1945-1989

Edited by Philip Broadbent and Sabine Hake


The ‘Conservative Revolutionaries’

The Protestant and Catholic Churches in Germany after Radical Political Change in the 1990s

Thériault, B.


Bloom And Bust

Urban Landscapes In The East Since German Reunification

Edited by Gwyneth Cliver and Carrie Smith-Prei



East German Cinema 1946-1992

Edited by Seán Allan and John Sandford


Disenchantment With Market Economics

East Germans and Western Capitalism

Birgit Müller


From The Bonn To The Berlin Republic

Germany At The Twentieth Anniversary Of Unification

Edited by Jeffrey Anderson and Eric Langenbacher


Reconstructing Education

East German Schools After Unification

Rosalind M. O. Pritchard



The Black Lives Matter Movement in the National Museum of African American History and Culture

by Rod Clare, Elon University


It has been over forty years since the mostly successful conclusion of the Civil Rights movement in the United States. While some may have thought the election of an African-American president in 2008 heralded a “postracial” America, continued violence and oppression has brought about a rebirth of activism, embodied by the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement. Now that nascent movement is preparing to be part of the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC). The NMAAHC is located at 1400 Constitution Avenue NW, in Washington DC.

The museum’s overriding goals are to make people aware of African-American history and to foster understanding and reconciliation about race in America and the world. The fact that the BLM movement is so new gives rise to concerns that the museum is collecting material that is too recent, topical, and potentially controversial. Nevertheless, as the director of the NMAAHC, Lonnie Bunch, has made clear, collecting and promoting such material helps “people to realize … that these are not isolated moments. They are part of a long history—a long history of tragedy, but also a long history of resilience and protest.”1

Though seemingly radical, Bunch’s approach is not without precedent when it comes to museums representing African-American lives (and deaths). A recent example of this is Kehinde Wiley’s exhibit, Kehinde Wiley: A New Republic, presented from February to May 2015, at the Brooklyn Museum in New York. Superimposing modern blacks onto classical Western art reliefs, Wiley’s work made one patron comment that “the fact that they have an exhibit like this maybe could revitalize that conversation again about Black Lives Matter.”2

A symposium on “History, Rebellion, and Reconciliation,” held at the Smithsonian in April 2015, discussed in part the fatal shooting of an African-American youth in Ferguson, Missouri, in the previous year. A reoccurring theme at the symposium was that museums could offer neutral “‘safe,’ or even ‘sacred’ spaces, within which visitors could wrestle with difficult and complex topics.”3 Currently, there is no better example of a more controversial and nuanced topic in America than the Black Lives Matter movement.

The BLM movement, born in 2013, was indirectly created out of decades of frustration within the African-American community over the legal system’s continual exoneration of those who had taken black lives. Often, those killed had transgressed supposed spatial boundaries, an issue in the past (for example, when a black youth “strayed” into a white section of a public beach, and responses by whites instigated the Chicago riots of 1919 that took thirty-eight lives), as much as the present. BLM’s direct genesis came as a result of the not-guilty verdict against George Zimmerman, who stalked and killed Trayvon Martin, a seventeen-year-old black youth who Zimmerman thought was in the wrong part of town in Sanford, Florida. Three black women (Patrisse Cullors, Alicia Garza, and Opal Tometi), all activists in the African-American community, viewed the verdict with shock, anger, and an underlying belief that something had to be done. Due to their drive and to further instances of black lives being taken, with ensuing rebellions in cities like Ferguson, Missouri, and Baltimore, Maryland, the movement has quickly taken off. Currently the BLM movement has approximately two dozen chapters throughout the United States as well as chapters in Ghana and Canada.

Implicit in the rise of BLM and its attendant demands and concerns is the long-standing issue of black mobility. That is, where can black people go and when can they go there? This question is not only relevant for African Americans currently but also in their arduous history in America. The idea of black mobility has been a fundamental query since African Americans were brought to America as enslaved people. As such, their movements and associations were always strictly monitored and in many cases, prohibited by laws, slave patrols, and other means. After the end of slavery, this remained the case in the South and indeed in other parts of the country well into the twentieth century through the implementation of Black Codes, Ku Klux Klan terrorism, sharecropping contracts, city zoning laws, segregation, and various other means.

In fact, it can be said that blacks gained any semblance of true mobility in the country only in the early 1970s when the last host of Civil Rights laws became implemented and enforced. Two generations later, it is fitting that some have described the BLM protests as the new Civil Rights movement. In a sense, BLM seeks to answer the question of whether or not some fifty years later black lives are truly valued as equal to all others in the country. From the U.S. government’s COINTELPRO assassination and disruption programs against black activists in the late 1960s and 1970s to the “stop and frisk” police sweeps since the 1990s and incidents such as the arrest of Sandra Bland in 2015, the curtailment of black movement makes the answer decidedly mixed.

The relevancy and emotions concerning the lasting effects of what has been labeled America’s “original sin” makes it a timely yet somewhat uncomfortable issue for a museum to embrace. This then begs the question, “what exactly is the purpose of a museum?” The International Council of Museums (ICOM) defines it as “a non-profit, permanent institution in the service of society and its development, open to the public, which acquires, conserves, researches, communicates and exhibits the tangible and intangible heritage of humanity and its environment for the purposes of education, study and enjoyment.”4 Most people would tend to define a museum as a place where old, if not ancient, objects are put on display to be reviewed in a genteel fashion. This might make it seem that only the elite patronize museums but nothing could be further from the truth. According to the American Alliance of Museums, some 850 million visits occur each year in American museums, more than all major organized sports put together.5

What Lonnie Bunch, NMAAHC’s director, wants to do is bring a current and controversial topic to the most respected of American museums, the Smithsonian. As Bunch put it in an interview with National Public Radio,

One of the jobs of a museum is to not only look back, but to look forward. And so once I heard about [the demonstrations] I knew it was very important to make sure that we collected material that might help a curator 20 years from now or 50 years from now look back and tell the story of the changing notions of race in America.6

Some of the items Bunch prioritizes for collection include banners, posters, gas masks, and a 4’ by 7’ panel of wood used to protect stores during the disturbances, which has printed on it “hands up,” along with cell phone videos and photos. A purpose of the NMAAHC, Bunch notes, is to place racial conflict and historical events in context, to make people realize that there are “moments of possibility,” where fundamental change and progress can be made. There will certainly be more material for the NMAAHC to collect based on the BLM’s new (as of August 2015) ten-point policy directive, Campaign Zero, directed at state and federal policing authorities.7 Though many may not link the two, the BLM movement is linked to the Constitution, for both have at their core the idea “to form a more perfect union.” This ideal, encompassing issues of life, liberty, and freedom of movement, is as radical and patriotic as the symbolism of what it means to be free in America.



This exhibit review originally appeared in volume 6, issue 1 of Transfers: Interdisciplinary Journal of Mobility Studies.



  1. National Public Radio (NPR), “Black Lives Matter: Coming to a Museum Near You?” 1 August 2015, National Public Radio (accessed 12 September 2015).
  1. “At the Brooklyn Museum, Art Helps Show Why Black Lives Matter,” Aljazeera America, (accessed 11 September 2015).
  1. “Why Museums Should be a Safe Space to Discuss Why #BlackLivesMatter,”, (accessed 12 September 2015).
  1. “Museum Defi nition,” International Council of Museums, nition/ (accessed 12 September 2015).
  1. “Museum Facts,” American Alliance of Museums, (accessed 16 August 2015).NPR, “Black Lives Matter: Coming to a Museum Near You?”
  1. “Solutions Overview,” Solutions: Campaign Zero, (accessed 13 September 2015).
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