Events by the SIEF Working Group Museums and Material Culture




(In-)significant stuff. Museums and the flipside of meaning making.

Organized by the SIEF Working Group Museums and Material Culture and the Research Group of the Reinwardt Academy (AHK) Amsterdam.

Friday 2 September 2022, Online

Museum professionals and ethnologists working in and researching cultural history and ethnographic museums have long been working on questions of who decides what ends up in a collection. In most cases, the focus is on relevance, value, significancy and uniqueness. In this workshop, we will challenge ourselves to focus on those items that are highlighted or labelled as insignificant, or superfluous or unwanted. Which items (tangible and intangible) are considered as such, by whom, when and in which contexts? How do museum professionals and ethnologists approach this kind of ‘stuff’, conceptually, practically and ethically? And what kind of tools or toolkits do they use to respond to challenges they are confronted with in their daily work? We investigate the question of how museums deal with their role as storage sites for things that have (temporarily) lost their practical use. What are the challenges of museums´ function as institutions deciding on the (often political) question of what is superfluous, what is ‘waste’ – as institutions deciding on whose legacies are insignificant?

Program of the workshop Friday 2 September 2022 1 PM, online

Show program
13:00 Welcome and introduction by Hester Dibbits, Reinwardt Academy (AHK)
13:15 Presentation 1. by Stefan Hartmann, Augsburg University, Germany
Exhibitions are spaces of meaning-making and the production of ‘Evidenz’ - a term that might be loosely translated into English as obviousness - through the spatial as well as esthetical arrangement of objects, in addition to informational “framings” in various media, and presentations. At the same time, trying to analyze past presentations may turn out to be nearly impossible, since “props” are discarded, objects removed, and photographic or video-documentations - if they do exist - might not cover the whole exhibition.
13:30 Discussion
13:45 Presentation 2. by Uta Karrer, Franconian Museum Feuchtwangen, Germany
Just a white staircase? Building elements as liminal objects in museum collections
The white staircase of the former mikveh is out of view underneath the historic forge of the Franconian Museum in Feuchtwangen. Eye-catching for the public however are engraved stones from Feuchtwangen historic buildings which have been incorporated in the museum´s walls. Currently both the white staircase of the Feuchtwangen mikveh and a relief depicting Jerusalem on the exterior wall of the museum have attracted increased public interest. This paper investigates the particular role and function (historic) building elements can have in museum collections and exhibitions.
14:00 Discussion
14:15 BREAK
14:30 Presentation 3. by Jana Reidla and Ene Kõresaar, University of Tartu, Estonia
Between ‘heritage’ and ‘stuff’: on the function of auxiliary collections in Estonian museums
This presentation takes up a recent trend in Estonian museums, namely that the growth of museum collections has significantly slowed down. At the same time, there is another interesting trend –growing auxiliary collections. These are artifacts which are not officially registered as museum objects, but are used in exhibitions and stored in museum rooms. The aim of the presentation is to analyse the ambivalent role of auxiliary collections in contemporary Estonian museum practice.
14:45 Discussion
15:00 Presentation 4. by Lizette Gradén, Associate Professor Ethnology, Lund University, Sweden
Entrepreneurship and Traditional Knowledge in Open-Air Museum Settings
Three disparate farmhouses scattered across Sweden whose histories have very different trajectories. They are all buildings that are understood to be important expressions of Swedish cultural heritage with thatched roofs that have been laid by the same thatcher. Building upon interviews and ethnographic fieldwork, this paper focuses upon a thatcher, and his role in raising questions about sustainability and maintaining a wider public interest in a fading craft.
15:15 Discussion
15:30 Wrap-up
15:45 End


Supported by:

Call for Papers: An ethnology lab on the workings of Covid-19 on museums

The SIEF Working group Museums & Material Culture (M&MC) in collaboration with the ICOM International Committee for Collecting (COMCOL) and the Reinwardt Academy (Amsterdam University of the Arts)
The Netherlands, Amsterdam, 8-9 October 2020 or held as a digital conference

Theme: The impact of Covid-19 on (y)our daily lives as researchers and professionals working in/on museums and material culture.
Covid-19 has been (or still is) prompting many museums to keep their doors closed for weeks or even months. They have to cope with sudden loss of income, worries about the wellbeing of their staff and unforeseen challenges related to their buildings, sites, collections and exhibitions. At the same time, the Covid-19 virus has initiated new ways of public engagement. The crisis is sparking a boom of online activities ranging from art making to virtual museum tours. Many museums have started to post (participatory) calls to locally document this historic event and its effects on society.

For this working group meeting, we are wondering how you have been dealing with this difficult situation:
What are the emotional effects of Covid-19 on ourselves and our colleagues? How do we socially and culturally respond to what is happening? How to (re-)position ourselves? How do the functions and workings of museums as social places change as a result of Covid-19? How do or should we position ourselves in relation to public and private funding in times of coronavirus and in the aftermath? How does Covid-19 change the public perception of museums? Should museums collect and publicly discuss this phenomena? What are the ethical questions to go with? What are the effects on concepts of diversity and inclusivity within our work?

The aim of this two-day expert meeting is to reflect on these challenges and explore what our professional interventions (should) look like. We encourage members of the M&MC working group and COMCOL to focus on the following topics:

Paper submission

Please submit the title of your paper, an abstract of no more than 100 words and three keywords, together with your name, academic affiliation, and e-mail to rwa-heritagelab(at) before 20 July 2020.

The papers must be written and presented in English. We are planning a publication of the conference papers.


Hester Dibbits (Reinwardt Academy, Amsterdam University of the Arts), Uta Karrer (Vogtländisches Freilichtmuseum), Lizette Graden (Lund University), Birgit Johler (Volkskundemuseum Graz), Danielle Kuijten (COMCOL and Imagine IC), Jule Forth (Reinwardt Academy, Amsterdam University of the Arts), Marit van Dijk (Reinwardt Academy, Amsterdam University of the Arts), Masha Vukanovic (Center for the Study in Cultural Development, Serbia).

Conference Venue

Reinwardt Academy, Amsterdam University of the Arts
Hortusplantsoen 2, 1018 TZ Amsterdam

Depending on the circumstances the conference might be (partially) held online.


8 October:
Starting at 10:00:
Presentation of papers. Presentations should not exceed 20 minutes followed by 10 minutes of discussion. Optional dinner.

9 October:
Starting at 10:00:
Presentation of papers. Presentations should not exceed 20 minutes followed by 10 minutes of discussion. Around 16:00 Farewell drinks.

(Please note: if due to circumstances organized in a digital form the timing will be subject to changes)


Attending the conference is free of charge and includes coffee, tea, vegan lunch and farewell drinks. Optional dinner is at own expenses.

The organizers do not provide any transportation nor accommodation.