• Class Number 3355
  • Term Code 2930
  • Class Info
  • Unit Value 6 units
  • Mode of Delivery In Person
    • Dr Anna Edmundson
    • Dr Anna Edmundson
  • Class Dates
  • Class Start Date 25/02/2019
  • Class End Date 31/05/2019
  • Census Date 31/03/2019
  • Last Date to Enrol 04/03/2019
SELT Survey Results

This course introduces students to a wide range of cultural and collecting institutions and to the historical, political, institutional and cultural frameworks for contemporary museum practice in Australia and internationally. The course focuses on the social role of the museum and supports students to critically consider key concepts and practices informing contemporary museums and their collections. We investigate the idea of the museum as contested ground and examine the complex and shifting relationships between museums and the diverse communities they serve. We explore how objects and collections acquire meaning and how those meanings are conveyed to museum visitors, ask why some cultural forms and objects become iconic, debate the elements of a successful exhibition and consider the range of skills and practices applied in contemporary museum and collecting practices. In investigating various approaches to these questions, the course links key concepts in museum studies to specific case studies.

Learning Outcomes

Upon successful completion, students will have the knowledge and skills to:

Upon successful completion of this course, students will have the knowledge and skills to:
  1. Demonstrate ongoing engagement with the contemporary cultural and collecting sector in Canberra, throughout Australia and overseas through critical appraisal of actual and virtual sites, exhibitions, collecting policies and audience engagement.
  2. Synthesise key concepts from Museum Studies, and demonstrate effective communication and independent conceptual thinking relevant to museum-focused research.
  3. Explain the varying purposes and structures of different kinds of museums, understand their approaches toward representation, and evaluate their changing relationships with the audiences and communities they serve.
  4. Assess and report on the significance of heritage objects, collections or sites, and demonstrate critical conceptual and practical understanding in developing appropriate approaches to presentation and interpretation.

Field Trips

Some classes will involve site visits to Canberra cultural institutions. Please see indicative course schedule below. Specifics of these trips will be advised in advance and external students will need to make alternative arrangements with the course convenor. 

Additional Course Costs

In addition to the fees for this course (and the optional expense of purchasing the two books listed as preliminary reading), students will need to acquire the required course materials and be able to access reliable computer facilities with an Internet connection (broadband recommended). Students should also note that visits to museums and other institutions are required during this course at various times (including for assignments), so they should be prepared for relevant travel expenses and entry charges.(Students outside Canberra will need to discuss with the lecturer specific cultural and collecting institutions for substitute visits, and be aware of any additional costs required to visit these).

Examination Material or equipment


Required Resources

Access to internet connectivity and devices in class:

Unless devices are needed for a specific activity in class I discourage the use of personal devices and computers in class and at times may ask you to turn them off. Please bring pens and paper for handwritten notes and activities.

Library resources

The ANU Library offers online access to many publications relevant to Museums and Collections, including the major journals Museum and Society, Recollections, Museum Management and Curatorship, Open Museum Journal, Museum International and Curator. There are many websites offered by relevant institutions and industry organisations, such as:

For an up-to-date digest of museum news, and other relevant links, see http://www.globalmuseum.org/ and http://www.museumstuff.com. For museum web sites around the world, see Virtual Library Museums Pages: a distributed directory of on-line museums at http://icom.museum/vlmp/.

It is strongly recommended that you make use of the National Museum of Australia (NMA) Library. You can explore their holdings on the website: http://library.nma.gov.au/libero/docs/Libopac/LibraryGuide.htm. The NMA Library, located in the Administrative Annexe, is open from 9am to 5pm, Tuesday to Friday. As accommodation is limited, please first telephone (6208 5112) or email (library@nma.gov.au) to make sure there is room for you to work there. The NMA library is an exceptional resource and facility available to you. The National Library of Australia also has an extensive collection of relevant texts.

Almost all cultural and collecting institutions maintain their own websites that include useful links to information about corporate governance and vision as well as exhibition and collection content.

Recommended Preliminary reading

  • Elaine Heumann Gurian (2006) Civilizing the Museum: the collected writings of Elaine Heumann Gurian. London: Routledge.
  • Bettina Messias Carbonell (ed) (2004), Museum Studies: An Anthology of Contexts, Malden MA: BlackwellPublishing. For copyright reasons, readings from this text are not available electronically, so you will need to purchase this book yourself or borrow this volume from the library.
  • Silverman, Raymond A., ed. Museum as Process - Translating Local and Global Knowledges.
  • Nina Simon The Participatory Museum (available online: http://www.participatorymuseum.org/)
  • http://www.nma.gov.au/history/research particularly Des Griffen and Leon Paroissien Understanding Museums and Museology. http://nma.gov.au/research/understandingmuseums/index.html 

Weekly Readings

PLEASE NOTE required and weekly readings will be posted on the course WATTLE site. Please check the WATTLE site each week as additions may be made throughout the course.

Staff Feedback

Students will be given feedback in the following forms in this course:

  • Written comments on essays and other written assignments
  • Comments to individuals during student /staff discussions
  • Verbal comments during seminar sessions
  • Where relevant engagement with posts on Wattle

Student Feedback

ANU is committed to the demonstration of educational excellence and regularly seeks feedback from students. Students are encouraged to offer feedback directly to their Course Convener or through their College and Course representatives (if applicable). The feedback given in these surveys is anonymous and provides the Colleges, University Education Committee and Academic Board with opportunities to recognise excellent teaching, and opportunities for improvement. The Surveys and Evaluation website provides more information on student surveys at ANU and reports on the feedback provided on ANU courses.

Other Information

General Assignment Guidelines

All assignments should result from wide and critical reading and other research; be clearly focused on the set topic and deal fully with its central concerns; present a reasoned, structured and coherent argument; and be competently presented, with appropriate style and referencing (see Essay Writing for Students, Clanchy and Ballard, 1997).These four criteria provide a basic framework for assessing your assignments (see the Museums and Collections general marking rubric for written work, below). Other key factors considered include organisation of ideas, essay structure and clarity of expression. It is essential that you proof read your work, and remember to check spelling, syntax and grammar. Help is available from: see: https://academicskills.anu.edu.au/.

Written work should use one-and-a-half or double spacing, and be printed on one side of the paper only. Leave a generous margin for comments. Do not submit the only copy of your work. Always keep another copy. Use notes where necessary: Historical, documentary, discursive (explanatory), or archival sources should be cited in endnotes.

For ALL academic assignments, students are required to both use and reference a variety of sources including books from the library (i.e. beyond what is included in the required reading list), scholarly journals, primary research, and online material. As this activity demonstrates research ability, it will contribute to the essay mark. A bibliography comprising very few references, or solely online material, will be marked down.

Protocol for contacting industry or community people for information

If you intend to contact institutions or individuals for help with research materials, access to collections, or advice on other matters, it is vital that you do so in a professional, informed and clear manner. People are happy to help students but expect you will have conducted substantial research (equivalent to your status as postgraduate students) about the nature of your query and about the institution you are approaching before you get in touch with them.

Do not use museum professionals as your first port of call for basic information and do not ask general questions such as ‘the assignment requires us to address a series of issues ranging from conservation concerns, conditions of acquisition, plus provide background information about the artist, the meaning of the work and the purpose of the exhibition,etc. If you or anyone you may know that could help me I’d greatly appreciate it!’. Use webpages and other public sources to find initial information and then develop a specific question and subsequently contact the museum or individual if still necessary. Do not contact people at the last minute as it can take some time for them to respond to queries if they are busy.

Finally, staff at the NMA (and other institutions) reserve the right to assist or not. Assistance will be forthcoming to students who can demonstrate a starting familiarity with the subject of their request, and this background should accompany the request. If you have any queries about this it may be a good idea for your application for information to be first sighted by and formally endorsed by the course lecturer. Museum staff do not want to see essay drafts but concise statements of what your research problem is, how you have identified it and what steps you have already taken to resolve it. In some instances it will be appropriate for finished papers to be referred back to the holding institution for content checking (for appropriate citation of staff sources etc). The course lecturer reserves this right as part of the examination process.

Class Schedule

Week/Session Summary of Activities Assessment
1 Course Introduction: museums and their missions(s)
2 Museums on Display: exhibiting ourselves and others
3 Engaging Audiences
4 'Decolonising' the Museum Assessment 1 : exhibition review
5 Museums and Memory
6 Interrogating Objects Assessment 2: comparison of national/state museums
7 Repatriation: returning objects, restoring knowledge
8 Objects & Archives
9 Managing Controversy: museums and ethics Assessment 3: major essay
10 Learning in the Museum
11 Museums in the Post Digital Era
12 Collections & Research – key concepts and practices Assessment 4: significance assessment

Assessment Summary

Assessment task Value Due Date Return of assessment Learning Outcomes
Review of Exhibition 20 % 22/03/2019 05/04/2019 1, 2
Comparison of national/state museums 20 % 05/04/2019 10/05/2019 1, 3
Major Essay "From the Field" 35 % 10/05/2019 31/05/2019 1, 2, 3
Significance Assessment Report 20 % 31/05/2019 22/06/2019 4
Workshop and Online Participation 5 % 31/05/2019 22/06/2019 1, 2, 3, 4

* If the Due Date and Return of Assessment date are blank, see the Assessment Tab for specific Assessment Task details


ANU has educational policies, procedures and guidelines, which are designed to ensure that staff and students are aware of the University’s academic standards, and implement them. Students are expected to have read the Academic Misconduct Rule before the commencement of their course. Other key policies and guidelines include:

Assessment Requirements

The ANU is using Turnitin to enhance student citation and referencing techniques, and to assess assignment submissions as a component of the University's approach to managing Academic Integrity. For additional information regarding Turnitin please visit the ANU Online website. Students may choose not to submit assessment items through Turnitin. In this instance you will be required to submit, alongside the assessment item itself, hard copies of all references included in the assessment item.

Moderation of Assessment

Marks that are allocated during Semester are to be considered provisional until formalised by the College examiners meeting at the end of each Semester. If appropriate, some moderation of marks might be applied prior to final results being released.

Assessment Task 1

Value: 20 %
Due Date: 22/03/2019
Return of Assessment: 05/04/2019
Learning Outcomes: 1, 2

Review of Exhibition

(Written work is to be submitted on Wattle by midnight on the due date)

Word limit (where applicable): 500- 1500

Value: 20%

Presentation requirements: Make sure you put your name on the paper when you submit it!

Details of task: In their own time students visit a cultural/collecting institution to view an exhibition. Using information given in class and on Wattle, students write up a review, and indicate where the review is to be published. A review should combine balanced opinions, concrete examples, a descriptive and critical assessment and a recommendation to a potential audience. The reader should get a sense of what the exhibition’s curators intended to demonstrate.

General guidelines for writing an exhibition review

Aspects to consider when analysing an exhibition:

  • What kind of review are you writing (e.g. a newspaper ‘feature’, or a review for professional organisation like Museums Australia?) – what is the purpose / where would it be published?
  • Are you reviewing a permanent or temporary exhibition? How long has it been on display?
  • Is it the only exhibition in the museum? How does it relate to others? How is the exhibition contextualised by the museum itself – architecture, ambience, location?
  • How does it tell its story?
  • What is in the exhibition?
  • What is the purpose and effect of the objects on display–is it clear why they have been selected?
  • What is the function of the wall texts and or other additional textual material?
  • Does it use video, computers or other interactive technologies? How do they work and what do they do?
  • How are people moving through the space – what do they appear interested in?

Aspects to consider when writing a review:

  • Has there been newspaper or other press interest in this exhibition? If so, you might like to engage with some of the points or discussion. If there has been no coverage you might like to consider why that is (is the museum marginal, poorly funded; does the exhibition deal with an unpopular topic?)
  • Where and how has the exhibition been reviewed? (weigh up the different positions, consider whether you would like to engage in debate over them; perhaps model your own review on a particular example)
  • Who is your audience (consider how different publications attract different audiences: compare daily newspapers with the art press, RealTime, for instance, against an industry magazine like the Museum Australia newsletter: what are these two publications looking for?)

Finally – consider this an exercise in professional writing (as well as an introduction to ways of seeing museums) and think about whether you might try to publish your review – Utilize the online review forum to test out your ideas on the class.


CriteraExcellentGoodSatisfactoryNeeds more work

Suitability of exhibition for review

General engagement with topic

Quality of introduction

Strength of key sentences

Engaging the reader

Suitability of publication which the review is to be placed

Style of student’s writing aligns with the publication

Evidence of critical analysis

Organisation of material

Description of exhibition

General style – ease of flow; good expression

Spelling, grammar, punctuation

Bibliography if suitable for publication


Assessment Task 2

Value: 20 %
Due Date: 05/04/2019
Return of Assessment: 10/05/2019
Learning Outcomes: 1, 3

Comparison of national/state museums

(Written work is to be submitted on Wattle by midnight on the due date)

Word limit: 2000

Value: 20%

Presentation requirements: N/A

Details of task: In their own time students visit two national or state cultural/collecting institutions. Look at the websites of the institutions and examine policies and vision/mission statements to understand what they collect, exhibit and their audience development. Look for critical literature about the history and practices of these institutions in scholarly and media writing. By comparing and contrasting these institutions along with critical analysis, students should gain a good understanding of the role of national/state museums, cultural and collecting institutions.

Assessment rubrics: This assignment will be assessed according to the general Museums and Collections marking rubric, and on the basis of the extent to which the student:

  • demonstrates an understanding of the nature of the institutions reviewed;
  • is able to identify and articulate key aspects of similarity and difference; and
  • brings new ideas into the discussion and comparison

Assessment Task 3

Value: 35 %
Due Date: 10/05/2019
Return of Assessment: 31/05/2019
Learning Outcomes: 1, 2, 3

Major Essay "From the Field"

(Written work is to be submitted on Wattle by midnight on the due date)

Word limit: 3000 approx

Value: 35%

Presentation requirements: Word doc or PDF identifying topic of paper and student name and number. Please include word count without references.

Details of task: Gathering material from the field, that is,using material,topics and ideas, from lectures or workshops in class throughout semester along with your own research visiting museums and collecting organisations, you need to research and write up a critical thinking essay.

Papers must draw on relevant assigned readings, your own exploration of relevant literature, as well as public information disseminated by the institutions (annual reports, web-sites, vision and mission statements). Below are some ideas and prompts you can use to design your research paper. Developing an argument based on a case study is the preferred mode. The required 3000 word count must come from the body of the paper and does not include titles, abstracts,or references cited.Each paper must follow a prompt from below or be developed in consultation with the lecturer. Some students may have a particular interest which they want to bring in and combine with museums studies. You must discuss a topic to the course convenor by week 6 if you wish to work on a topic that is not in the list below. 

Please note: Use this assignment to follow your own personal interests. A list of possible essay questions will be available on Wattle but If none of these topics are interesting to you feel free to set your own essay topic, but you need to discuss this with Anna by week 6 of semester. 

Assessment Rubrics: The goal of this assessment is to demonstrate your ability to apply the knowledge and skills gained during the course to researching, conceptualising and developing an argument in a critical essay. You are expected to draw on material presented in lectures and readings over the semester as well as on your own independent research in the field and in libraries. 

Museums and Collections General Writing Marking Rubric:

Rubrics are used in conjunction with individual feedback and commentary. They show the key points that the assessment is asking for and can be used to guide as to what to include in a task. You can use them as a check list before handing in work. However, individuality, originality and creativity are always sought.

For this rubric: These criteria evaluate the skills most valuable for academic writing—effective, persuasive writing; independent research; and the demonstrated ability to engage in independent and critical thinking. A High Distinction will generally require work that is marked ‘excellent’ in most sections in this category.


CriteriaExcellentVery goodGoodSatisfactoryNeeds much more work

General engagement with topic

Quality of introduction

Assertion of central argument

Development of argument 


Insight and originality

Evidence of critical analysis

Choice and use of resources

Use of provided sources and references

Paragraph development

Strength of topic sentences (beginning paragraphs) 


General style – ease of flow; good expression

Spelling, grammar, punctuation

Adequacy of bibliographic information 

Bibliographic information/citation style

Assessment Task 4

Value: 20 %
Due Date: 31/05/2019
Return of Assessment: 22/06/2019
Learning Outcomes: 4

Significance Assessment Report

(Written work is to be submitted on Wattle by midnight on the due date)

Word limit (where applicable): 500-1000 words

Value: 15%

Presentation requirements: N/A

Significance assessment is a tool used by all Australian museum and heritage institutions and organisations, regardless of size. This is a professional exercise that will convey important knowledge about how to assess and argue significance. In reference to the Significance 2.0 - Guide to Assessing Significance (https://www.arts.gov.au/sites/g/files/net1761/f/significance-2.0.pdf) develop a significance assessment report for a collection object of your choice. The object must be held by a collection or museum and should have no existing significance assessment report. Discuss your choice of object with the lecturer before you start the task. Some options will be discussed in class during week 7.

The significance report should be in 2 parts – the first is the Statement of Significance which ideally is no more than 1 page in length. The second part includes details of the methods used in preparing the assessment, including what sources and people were consulted, issues encountered, additional relevant information, discussion and references.  

General guidelines for developing a significance assessment:

PLEASE REFER TO SIGNIFICANCE 2.0 GUIDELINES and other guidelines provided in Week 7 class.

Remember that a statement of significance is effectively an argument about how and why it is significant. It is a reference point for all policies and future decisions about how that object is understood and therefore managed. A clear and succinct statement of significance enables museum staff to consider more carefully whether proposed policies or actions are in sync with the ongoing conservation and understanding of an object’s significance.

Useful resources:

Russell, Rosslyn and Kylie Winkworth (2009), Significance 2.0: A guide to assessing the significance of collections. Adelaide: Collections Council of Australia, https://www.arts.gov.au/sites/g/files/net1761/f/significance-2.0.pdf (online)

Heritage Collections Council (2001), Using significance: a guide to assessing the significance of cultural heritage objects and collections http://www.significanceinternational.com/Portals/0/Documents/(significance)2001.pdf (online)

Significance Assessment Rubric:

The aim of this project is to highlight the process of significance assessment: researching, documenting and assessing objects. A High Distinction will generally require work that is marked ‘excellent’ in most sections in this category. In this task you will be evaluated on:

  • the extent to which you have effectively understood and met the key criteria for developing a significance assessment
  • the extent to which you have developed the report according to the guidelines and professional standards.
  • Appropriate object choice will also be taken into consideration
  • The manner in which you have approached institutions or individuals for information or assistance.


CriteriaExcellentGoodSatisfactoryNeeds more work

Description of object: size, material, media etc

File collation: documented sources of information; bibliography

Provenance of object: evidence of independent research skills, through the use of libraries, archives and other sources. 

Use of Primary Criteria: Historic, Artistic or aesthetic, Scientific or research, Social or spiritual

Use of Comparative Criteria: Provenance, Rarity or representativeness, Condition or completeness, Interpretive capacity

Succinct statement of significance

1 page

1-1/2 pages

2 or more pages

½ page 

Presentation and organisation of material and structure

Use of provided sources and references e.g. Significance 2.0

General style – ease of flow; good expression; Clarity 

Spelling, grammar, punctuation

Bibliographic information/citation style

Assessment Task 5

Value: 5 %
Due Date: 31/05/2019
Return of Assessment: 22/06/2019
Learning Outcomes: 1, 2, 3, 4

Workshop and Online Participation

All students are expected to do the required reading for each week BEFORE class, and to participate and contribute to workshops and discussions. Throughout the semester there will be in-class discussions and exercises which all students are expected to participate in. A forum will be set up on Wattle for critical and reflective discussion of weekly workshops and activities. 

Off-campus students please note that you will be expected to contribute to the online discussions every week. This is the online equivalent of the workshops and seminars that the on-campus students participate in each week. Your 5% will be marked on the basis of the quality and depth of your contributions and your engagement with the online forum each week.

The other group task all students are expected to participate in is making a class Encyclopedia of Key Concepts and Practices in Museums and Collections.

ALL STUDENTS are expected to contribute to online forums during the semester, in part to support our online colleagues to know more of what is happening in class. On-Campus students, your 5% will be marked on the mix of face to face and online contributions, including the quality and depth of your engagement. 

Academic Integrity

Academic integrity is a core part of our culture as a community of scholars. At its heart, academic integrity is about behaving ethically. This means that all members of the community commit to honest and responsible scholarly practice and to upholding these values with respect and fairness. The Australian National University commits to embedding the values of academic integrity in our teaching and learning. We ensure that all members of our community understand how to engage in academic work in ways that are consistent with, and actively support academic integrity. The ANU expects staff and students to uphold high standards of academic integrity and act ethically and honestly, to ensure the quality and value of the qualification that you will graduate with. The University has policies and procedures in place to promote academic integrity and manage academic misconduct. Visit the following Academic honesty & plagiarism website for more information about academic integrity and what the ANU considers academic misconduct. The ANU offers a number of services to assist students with their assignments, examinations, and other learning activities. The Academic Skills and Learning Centre offers a number of workshops and seminars that you may find useful for your studies.

Online Submission

You will be required to electronically sign a declaration as part of the submission of your assignment. Please keep a copy of the assignment for your records. Unless an exemption has been approved by the Associate Dean (Education) as submission must be through Turnitin.

Hardcopy Submission

For some forms of assessment (hand written assignments, art works, laboratory notes, etc.) hard copy submission is appropriate when approved by the Associate Dean (Education). Hard copy submissions must utilise the Assignment Cover Sheet. Please keep a copy of tasks completed for your records.

Late Submission

Late submission of assessment tasks without an extension are penalised at the rate of 5% of the possible marks available per working day or part thereof. Late submission of assessment tasks is not accepted after 10 working days after the due date, or on or after the date specified in the course outline for the return of the assessment item. Late submission is not accepted for take-home examinations.

Referencing Requirements

Accepted academic practice for referencing sources that you use in presentations can be found via the links on the Wattle site, under the file named “ANU and College Policies, Program Information, Student Support Services and Assessment”. Alternatively, you can seek help through the Students Learning Development website.

Returning Assignments

Assignments will either be returned in hard copy in class, via wattle or email to you on or before the advertised return date. 

Extensions and Penalties

Extensions and late submission of assessment pieces are covered by the Student Assessment (Coursework) Policy and Procedure. The Course Convener may grant extensions for assessment pieces that are not examinations or take-home examinations. If you need an extension, you must request an extension in writing on or before the due date. If you have documented and appropriate medical evidence that demonstrates you were not able to request an extension on or before the due date, you may be able to request it after the due date.

Resubmission of Assignments

Referencing requirements: References in both the text and in any endnotes should follow Harvard style. References are cited in the text thus: (author, date: page). A bibliography should follow the text (and endnotes if any), using the Harvard system. The main thing is to be consistent in style. For examples of Harvard (author, date) style see: https://academicskills.anu.edu.au/.

Privacy Notice

The ANU has made a number of third party, online, databases available for students to use. Use of each online database is conditional on student end users first agreeing to the database licensor’s terms of service and/or privacy policy. Students should read these carefully. In some cases student end users will be required to register an account with the database licensor and submit personal information, including their: first name; last name; ANU email address; and other information.
In cases where student end users are asked to submit ‘content’ to a database, such as an assignment or short answers, the database licensor may only use the student’s ‘content’ in accordance with the terms of service – including any (copyright) licence the student grants to the database licensor. Any personal information or content a student submits may be stored by the licensor, potentially offshore, and will be used to process the database service in accordance with the licensors terms of service and/or privacy policy.
If any student chooses not to agree to the database licensor’s terms of service or privacy policy, the student will not be able to access and use the database. In these circumstances students should contact their lecturer to enquire about alternative arrangements that are available.

Distribution of grades policy

Academic Quality Assurance Committee monitors the performance of students, including attrition, further study and employment rates and grade distribution, and College reports on quality assurance processes for assessment activities, including alignment with national and international disciplinary and interdisciplinary standards, as well as qualification type learning outcomes.

Since first semester 1994, ANU uses a grading scale for all courses. This grading scale is used by all academic areas of the University.

Support for students

The University offers students support through several different services. You may contact the services listed below directly or seek advice from your Course Convener, Student Administrators, or your College and Course representatives (if applicable).

Dr Anna Edmundson

Research Interests

Museum studies, Indigenous studies, Pacific history, visual anthropology, digital humanities and curatorial practice.

Dr Anna Edmundson

Dr Anna Edmundson

Research Interests

Dr Anna Edmundson

Responsible Officer: Registrar, Student Administration / Page Contact: Website Administrator / Frequently Asked Questions