SOAS University of London

Department of Anthropology and Sociology

Museums, Heritage and Material Culture Studies

Module Code:
FHEQ Level:
Year of study:
Year 1
Taught in:
Full Year

This is the core module for the MA in Museums, Heritage and Material Culture Studies. Taught jointly by the Department of Anthropology and School of Arts, it introduces students to the interconnecting fields of museum studies, cultural heritage studies and material/visual culture studies.

The module employs a variety of critical perspectives and explores the convergences and divergences of the distinct disciplinary contributions of anthropology, art history and archaeology in these interdisciplinary fields. Topics relating to each of the three fields of museum studies, heritage studies and material culture studies are interwoven to help students make creative links and connections between the module themes.

The material culture strand includes explorations of object biography; consumption; materials and materiality; making; visual culture; object-based research techniques; and the relationship between contemporary art and ethnographic practice.

The critical museology strand explores cultures of collecting, taxonomy and display; museum history; museums as civic institutions; museum representation; museum anthropology and World Art/World Cultures; non-Western museum models; and exhibition semantics and meaning-making.

The critical heritage strand considers the relationship between past, present and future; material and immaterial traces; the politics of heritage preservation; World Heritage and globalisation; Intangible Cultural Heritage; heritage and tourism; archives; landscape and memorialization; and negotiating difficult heritages.

These topics are explored through case examples which draw upon SOAS’s established strengths in Asian, African and Middle Eastern studies, as well as through transnational dynamics.

The module is taught and assessed using innovative approaches, including study visits to London museums and heritage sites, and students undertaking object-based research activities.


This module is for students enrolled on the MA in Museums, Heritage and Material Culture Studies.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

On successful completion of this module a student will be able to:

  • Demonstrate a critical understanding of themes, issues and debates in museum, heritage and material culture studies;
  • Demonstrate an awareness of distinct anthropological, art historical and archaeological approaches to the study of tangible and intangible cultural heritage;
  • Demonstrate an awareness of World Art/World Cultures/World Heritage, with an emphasis on SOAS's regional specialisms (Asia, Africa and the Middle East) as well as transnational/diasporic contexts;
  • Assess critically the materials and themes explored in the module;
  • Apply theoretically-informed critical perspectives to the study of material culture, museum institutions and expressions of cultural heritage;
  • Research, analyze and contextualize museum objects;
  • Critically read and evaluate a range of primary and secondary sources;
  • Structure and communicate ideas effectively both orally and in writing;
  • Work independently;
  • Find information and use information technology, including word processing and design software.


  • One hour lecture, one hour seminar (per week)

Method of assessment

There are three assessed assignments for this module:

  • AS1: 3,000 word research essay, due 7 January 2019, 45% of overall grade
  • AS2: In-class poster presentation, delivered 20 March 2019, 10% of overall grade
  • AS3: 3,000 word project report, due 22 March 2019, 45% of overall grade


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules