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Besieged! Contemporary political, cultural and economic challenges to museums in the academy as seen from Ann Arbor

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Author(s): Carla M. Sinopoli | Raymond Silverman

Journal: University Museums and Collections Journal
ISSN 2071-7229

Volume: 4;
Start page: 27;
Date: 2011;
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ABSTRACT
In this article, we discuss some recent experiences of two museums at the University of Michigan. We use these cases – of the removal of Native American dioramas from the Exhibit Museum of Natural History and of responses to repatriation by the Museum of Anthropology – as a lens through which to examine the challenges, and the potentials, of university museums. We begin by describing the museums within the broader framework of museum culture at the University of Michigan, and the recent financial and organizational challenges they have faced. Moving from these structural challenges, we shift to debates about the content and missions of two museums that in somewhat different ways are each involved in disputes over culture and ownership. We explore how each museum has responded to these disputes and how each has interacted with multiple stakeholder communities, both within and beyond the university. We conclude by suggesting that the conflicts themselves are productive and that university museums can play important roles in engaging students, researchers, descendent communities, and the larger public in discussions of complex ethical and cultural issues.
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