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Research Seminar: Impposible Task? Making Objects Relevant is So Hard and How Can We Do It Anyway?

Tuesday, November 30, 2021, 5:40 pm – 7:00 pm

Dear Students, Faculty and Staff of the Department of History, 

We are continuing our departmental tradition of organizing weekly research seminars. In these seminars, professors and researchers provide insights into their current work.

On Tuesday, 30.11.2021, 17:40 PM CET, we will have a lecture by Nathaniel Prottas, Director of Education at the Wien Museum, Austria.

Title:  An Impossible Task? Why Making Objects Relevant Is So Hard and How Can We Do It Anyway?

Zoom link:

Meeting ID: 933 3710 3536

Passcode: 271164

Abstract: The development of the museum and that of museum education are often told as separate stories, one a narrative of collections, the other a more recent development in audience engagement. Yet, the movement of objects from churches, private homes, and the public sphere into the museum was articulated as an educational exercise. While this move was tied up with the larger project of constructing national identities and a form of strictly chronological history writing, just as importantly it was defined by loss of context for objects and the anxiety about filling this gap for the public. If earlier objects in churches and homes, on local buildings and street corners were part of people’s lived lives, gathering meanings and use value within themselves as the years passed, the museum stopped this process, removing them from the everyday experience of life. This reframing meant that objects, once largely recognizable in their use and value, became opaque and necessitated educational approaches, from texts, to books, and later to tours.

Ever since removing objects from the world of people’s lived lives and framing them within the museum, we have struggled with the question raised by visitors: what does this have to do with me? Museum educators, tasked with answering this question, are stymied by the structure of the museum itself. How do museum educators help people connect with objects in a space that explicitly creates historical distance? How do we regain a sense of the objects’ use and shifting value over time when the museum aggressively denies this flexibility? And how can we create meaningful experiences with objects when they are so unfamiliar as to be often illegible?

In this talk I will address how the history of the museum created this tension and a set of contradictory requirements that museum educators work to overcome. Through an historical discussion and practical examples, I will connect the histories of the museum to the history of education within the museum and ask how theory and practice can come together to create meaningful experiences for museum visitors today.

Bio:  Nathaniel Prottas is the Director of Education at the Wien Museum, Austria, a position he has held since 2017. Prior to moving to Vienna, he was the Director of Education at the Museum of Biblical Art in New York and the Samuel H. Kress Interpretative Fellow at the Frick Collection. He holds a PhD in Art History from the University of Pennsylvania and teachers’ courses on museum theory and practices at the University of Vienna, the Central European University, and the Technical University, Dortmund. Nathaniel is the Editor in Chief of the Journal of Museum Education and has published on museum theory and practice in journals including the Journal of Aesthetic Education, Museum Worlds, and the Journal of Museum Education.

We welcome all members of the department!




Tijana Rupčić and Jan Hennings