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PPR.338: Art, Museums, and International Relations

Not available 2013/14

Course Description

In this module, the "art of international relations" is taken seriously as a starting point for investigating art and art museums as part of way of the political world of the international. Learning takes place mostly through the cases of museum histories and politics that put museums into international roles they may or may not seek directly. This way of studying international relations throws new light on the events and preoccupations of international relations as a field, including competition, power, gender politics, race, class, war, and development. Some of these topics, with illustrative examples, are as follows:

  • Museums as institutions of nation-building and international relations (British Museum, Louvre, Smithsonian).
  • Acquiring art for the nation through colonial conquest, looting, theft, and purchases that may or may not be legal (British Museum, National Gallery London, Smithsonian).
  • Art ownership debates (cosmopolitan heritage of mankind or of a region versus cultural patrimonial views upholding claims for restitution or sharing of art).

Learning Outcomes

  • Demonstrate an understanding of the history of the art museum and the political roles it has had in nation-building and in the international politics of wars, development, diplomacy and other topic areas relevant to international relations.
  • Develop a nuanced understanding of major art museums as soft power actors in international relations.
  • Recognise the power of artworks and architectures to signify positive group identity and inflame those who wish to change identity patterns by changing politics (e.g., the Taliban destroying the Bamiyan Buddhas, the Nazi condemnation of modern art).
  • Recognise race, class, and gender issues around who has been included and excluded from collecting politics of museums.


40% coursework and 60% exam.
Coursework: 1 essay of 3000 words. Exam: 2 hours.

Teaching Method

Lecture (1.5 hours) and seminar (1 hour) weekly.

Introductory Reading

Kwame Anthony Appiah Cosmopolitan: Ethics in a World of Strangers 2006.

Stephanie Barron "1937: Modern Art and Politics in Prewar Germany" in Degenerate Art: The Fate of the Avant-Garde in Nazi Germany 1992.

Matthew Bogdans Thieves of Baghdad 2005.

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