Notions of Universality in Universal Museums

Symposium at the Musée des Arts et Métiers, Paris, 18th November 2017

This conference will explore contemporary definitions of ‘universal’ histories and ‘universal’ museums, and comparisons between them. It draws on the research of the AHRC ‘Care for the Future’ and Labex Past in the Present project ‘Universal Histories and Universal Museums’, which has developed a comparative critique of approaches to universal histories in museums and of the role of museums in building knowledge about the future. The conference will also build on preliminary historical research on collections, museum taxonomies, public reception, and ideas of universalities presented in the project workshops:

  •  ‘The Evolution of the Museum’: at the Science Museum, 13th and 14th July 2017,
  •  ‘Comparative Museologies: The Example of Asian Arts’: at the Musée de l’Homme, September 28th 2017,
  •  ‘Museum universalities in Western cultural capitals in the nineteenth and early twentieth century’: at the Université de Paris-Nanterre, 17th November 2017.

Transdisciplinary and transnational research on museums, their public roles, and their relation to subject specialisms, will underpin a discussion on the definition and constitution of universalities in museums. The conference will seek to unpack the notions of, and their reciprocal overlapping, ‘global’, ‘universal’, and ‘encyclopaedic’ museums and the implications of using these definitions in light of current approaches to universalities in historical research.

Papers are invited in the following thematic areas:

  • Different ideas of universalities across the world today and their translation in museums, including amongst others: the British Museum, the South Kensington Museum, Vienna, St Petersburg. The Metropolitan Museum,the Louvre Abu Dhabi, the world parks in China (Beijing World Park, Window of the World Shenzen).
  • Definitions of, and comparisons between, ‘universal’ and ‘global’ museums, and how these definitions are deployed in museological thought and in these museums practices.

Important information:

Papers – abstract: 300 words (20 minutes papers)

Deadline for both papers and posters abstract submission: 1st October 2017.

Please send abstracts to:

Authors will be notified by 10th October 2017.

Please note: we aim to publish a selection of the papers from the workshops of the ‘Universal Histories, Universal Museums’ research project as a journal special issue.