Reimagining the Museum - "Difficult" Objects (Workshop)

Friday, October 2 at 12:00pm to 1:30pm

This is a past event.
Virtual Event


This online workshop will bring together university-based and museum-based scholars and professionals in order to discuss some of the ways in which museums collect, display, and narrate cultures, past and present, with a focus on objects that prove particularly resistant, provocative, recalcitrant, nonconforming—“difficult”—and why. From fakes to fragments, decaying materials to taxonomic challenges, troubling histories to disputed ownership, undesirable presence to un-displayable state, unruly objects can be particularly useful things to think with, opening up analytic and theoretical possibilities for understanding, confronting, and reimagining the museum as an institution and the museum exhibition as a way of knowing. 


The workshop will begin with very brief comments by invited speakers based at both universities and museums. Each speaker will present one particular "difficult object," focusing on the larger questions it poses and issues it raises. All participants in the online meeting will then be invited to join break-out rooms where they can, in small groups, discuss the questions raised by the presenter and pose their own questions about the category of "difficult objects" and how it can serve as an instrument for investigating and reimagining the museum and exhibitions. Through collaborative note taking on a shared online document, we will record each group's observations and suggestions regarding objects, issues, and readings. We will then reconvene for a final plenary discussion.


Confirmed speakers: 

  • Dennis Carr, Huntington Art Museum
  • Joshua Garrett-Davis, The Autry Museum of the American West
  • Rebecca Hall, USC Pacific Asia Museum
  • Laurel Kendall, American Museum of Natural History
  • Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, NYU / Polin Museum of the History of Polish Jews
  • Kailani Polzak, University of California, Santa Cruz
  • Matthew Robb, Fowler Museum at UCLA
  • Nancy Um, SUNY Binghamton
  • Winnie Wong, University of California, Berkeley


To attend, please click here to register.
You can also sign up receive information about future meetings .

This workshop is organized by professors Daniela Bleichmar (University of Southern California, Departments of Art History and History) and Nancy Lutkehaus (University of Southern California, Department of Anthropology), and sponsored by the Levan Institute for the Humanities and the USC-Huntington Early Modern Studies Institute. If you have questions about this event, please email and


Image: Specimen drawer from Hans Sloane's collection, The British Museum

Event Type

Lecture / Talk / Workshop

Early Modern Studies Institute (EMSI) , Levan Institute for the Humanities
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