Museum Objects as Evidence: An Interdisciplinary Approach

From 4 to 15 January 2021, the Rijksmuseum, the University of Amsterdam, and Bard Graduate Center will offer an interdisciplinary Winter School devoted to object-based research within a museum setting. Experts in the field will provide participants with an exclusive and in-depth look at the technical, analytic, and interpretive work going on behind the scenes in the conservation studios, science laboratories, and curatorial departments.

By focusing on how material objects provide primary evidence for historical research, this collaborative course introduces multiple techniques and perspectives for extracting the types of information museum objects generate and unraveling the many stories they can tell.

Programme

Over the course of two weeks, participants will work closely with an interdisciplinary team of researchers, curators, conservators, and scientists from the Rijksmuseum, the Conservation Department of the University of Amsterdam, and Bard Graduate Center (New York City). The Winter School is anchored by a series of object-focused case studies drawn mainly from the collections of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. These sessions highlight the varied ways of gathering information about the material past, allowing us to ask more profound questions about the circumstances of objects’ production and use, and in turn about the persons who made and used them. Participants will also be introduced to the use of several advanced analytical techniques.

Demonstrations will be given by the scientists operating the apparatus, so that the participants can gain first-hand information about the principles and, perhaps more importantly, the possibilities and limitations of technical analysis.

Just as important is a study of the ways museums mobilize and present objects as part of their public mission. Object sessions are thus complemented by an interactive program of seminars, lectures, and practical assignments highlighting the possibilities, challenges and limitations of exhibiting cultural history in museums. Each day will end with a discussion led by two of the students. Excursions to other museums and institutions form part of the program.

Key themes will include:

  • Reading the object
  • Biography of the object
  • Objects as evidence
  • Damage or decay
  • Issues of authenticity
  • Reconstructing the object
  • Meaning through display
  • Reimagining the object
  • Thinking of the future

Participants will emerge from the Winter School with enhanced tools and perspectives for conducting innovative object-based research, and for using museum objects as historical evidence.

For this Winter School, the Rijksmuseum and the University of Amsterdam collaborate under the flag of the Netherlands Institute for Conservation+Art+Science+ (NICAS), of which they are founding partners.

Entry Requirements

This Winter School is aimed primarily at advanced students (MA and PhD level preferred) and young professionals specializing in the fields of history, art history, archaeology, or anthropology – but other humanities students interested in questions of cultural heritage are also welcome to apply. Selection is based on academic achievement, relevant work experience, and motivation to attend.

The deadline for application was 1 March 2020.

Contact

  • For questions about the contents of the program, please contact Barbara Tedder, Coordinator Academic Programs at the Rijksmuseum b.tedder@rijksmuseum.nl.
  • For other practical questions, please contact Marjan Gerrits of University of Amsterdam M.Gerrits@uva.nl.

The Summer School is made possible by Fonds Beukenhorst/Rijksmuseum Fonds and by the Samuel H. Kress Foundation.