SOAS University of London

Online Academic Summer School

Objects, Museums and People in the 21st Century (2021 entry)

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Objects, Museums and People in the 21st Century

Routed in colonial histories and shaped by hidden ideologies, object collections and museums have been paramount in shaping and making sense of the non-western world for more than two centuries. By deconstructing past and present practices and building on post-colonial theory and critical museology, the module offers an overview of key concepts, methods/practices, addresses key issues and controversies, putting forward the case for the active role of museums in promoting positive social change.

The course is designed to equip students with a broad range of theoretical and practical approaches to the study of objects and museums. It examines the histories and hidden ideologies that gave birth and shaped the institution and looks closely at the practices used to interpret, organise and display objects – especially from non-Western contexts. It further explores the changing role of museums in society with particular reference to how new/critical Museology engages with contemporary issues in the interface of objects, museums and communities in order to bring positive social change.

‘Studying museums and museology under Dr Maria Kostoglou is a highly engaging course which provides students with exposure to the nuances of cultural practice with museums and heritage; it gives a great overview of themes in museology and ways in which to challenge issues within museum practice. The interrogation of issues within museology and learning how to apply a postcolonial approach inspired me to continue my studies in the field through studying the ways in which museums can engage wider audiences and be critical of eurocentric classifications of collections and of their role...’

What Will I Learn?

  • use a range of investigative tools and approaches with which to analyse theory and practice in museums.
  • gain theoretical and practical knowledge of the interpretation of a range of museum objects.
  • apply key concepts in museological theory to the critical analysis of displays
  • examine some of the key issues and debates in museology. 

For more information, please see the course handbook:  Objects, Museums and People in the 21st Century handbook (pdf; 103kb)  

For further information on credits, entry requirements and fees, please visit our Online Learning webpage.

If you have any question, please fill out our enquiries form.

Venue: Online Learning

Start of programme: 28 June - 9 July 2021

Mode of Attendance: Online Learning

Entry requirements

Featured events

Tuition Fees 2021




The module is designed for blended delivery in Moodle using both asynchronous (pre-recorded lectures, videos/blogs, reading materials, handbooks and guidance notes on practicals) and synchronous live sessions in Collaborate that include seminars, Q and A, guest lecturers and sessions with guest curators from London.

Week 1: Objects and collections
  • Objects and people
  • Theorising objects
  • Analyzing objects
  • Collecting histories and ideologies
  • Managing collections

Guest lecture: Dr. St. Pierson ‘Curating Chinese collections: Issues and controversies’.

Case study of the week:
Dr. Anna Garnet: University Collections. The Petrie Museum collections. UCL.

Week 2: Museums and critical museology
  • New/critical museology
  • Post-colonial debates
  • Museum ethics (cultural property and illicit trade, repatriation, dark heritage)
  • Decolonize the museum

Guest lecture: Prof. Louise Tythacott: Repatriation/reinstitution

Case study of the week/practical: Dr. Aaron Jafer ‘Decolonize the National Maritime Museum: issues and controversies in practice.

Reading List

Suggested Initial Readings: note that files of essential readings will be provided in Moodle)

  • Bennett, Tony (1995) ‘The Exhibitionary Complex’, in The Birth of the Museum: History, Theory, Politics. London and New York: Routledge, pp 59-88.
  • Caple, C. 2006. Conservation skills: judgement, method and decision-making‟. (chapter 2 Reasons for Preserving the Past). London: Routledge. Pp 12-28.
  • Chambers I. de Angelis A, Ianniciello C, Orabona M., and Quadraro M (eds) 2014. The postcolonial museum: the arts of memory and the pressures of histories, Farnham, Ashgate Publishing.
    Dean, David (1999) ‘The exhibition development process’ in Hooper-Greenhill, Eilean (ed.)
  • Declaration on the Importance and Value of Universal Museums, December 2002,
  • Decolonising Museums by L’INTERNATIONAL ONLINE (pp 4-22) available at › media › files › decolonisingmuseu...
  • Hilgert, M. 2016 „Definitely stolen?: why there is no alternative to provenance research in archaeological museums, in Murphy B. L. (ed) ‘Museums, Ethics, and Cultural Heritage’, ICOM, London and New York: Routledge, pp 210-217
  • Jan Nederveen Pieterse Multiculturalism and museums: discource about others in the age of globalization, in Theory, Culture and Society, vol. 14 (4): 123-146
  • Kostoglou, M, 2010 Iron, connectivity and local identities in ancient Mediterranean‟. In P. van Dommelen, and A. B. Knapp „Material Connections in the ancient Mediterranean’. London: Routledge: chapter 9, pages 170-189 (in Moodle).
  • MacDonald S 2016 Exhibiting contentious and difficult histories: ethics, emotions, and reflexivity‟ in Murphy B. L. (ed) Museums, Ethics, and Cultural Heritage‟, ICOM, London and New York: Routledge, pp 267-277
  • Macdonald, Sharon (2002) ‘A new vision for the 21st century: rewriting the museum’, in Macdonald, Suzanne (2002) Behind the scenes at the Science Museum. Oxford: Berg. pp 59-89.
  • Marstine, J. (ed) 2006. New Museum: Theory and Practice, An Introduction. Blackwell Publishing (pp 1-36 available in Google books).
  • O’Neill, Mark (2004) ‘Enlightenment museums: universal or merely global?’ in Museum and Society, November, 2 (3), pp 190-202.
  • Pearce, M. S., 1994 „Museum Objects‟ in Pearce, M. S. (ed) ‘Interpreting objects and Collections’. London: Routledge. pp 9-12
  • Phillips, Ruth (2003) ‘Community collaboration in exhibitions: an introduction’, in Peers and Brown (eds.) Museums and source communities: a Routledge reader. London and New York: Routledge, pp 155-170.
  • Pye, E. 2008. ‘The power of touch: handling objects in museums and heritage sites’. Left Coasst Press. (part 1: the science of touch pp 31-44 and part 3: Professional touch pp 107- 120).
  • Schuster, A. and Polx, M. 2005. „The Looting of the Iraq Museum, Baghdad: the lost legacy of ancient Mesopotamia‟. Bagdad.
  • Simon, R. I. (2011). „A Shock to Thought: Curatorial Judgment and the Public Exhibition of „Difficult Knowledge‟‟, Memory Studies, 4 (4), pp. 432-449. colonial-crimes-memorial?CMP=fb_gu
  • UNESCO, 2017. Convention on Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illegal Import/Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property- 1970 . Available at:
  • Willet, F. 2000. Restitution or recirculation: Benin, Ife and Nok‟ in Journal of Museum Ethnography, No 12 ,pp. 125-132.

Important notice

The information on the programme page reflects the intended programme structure against the given academic session. If you are a current student you can find structure information on the previous year link at the top of the page or through your Department. Please read the important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules.

Teaching and Learning

Fees and funding

Tuition Fees


Application fee

A one-off, non-refundable application fee of £40 will be charged to cover administration costs. Please visit the SOAS online store to make your application fee payment.


Save £200 when if apply by 30th April 

10% discount if you apply for two courses over 4 weeks

20% discount for SOAS Alumni (including Academic Summer School alumni)

20% discount for our partner institutions

Other discounts are available for groups. Please contact us for more information.