The Bog and the Beast: Museums, The Nation, and the World

How are national identities created and maintained?  What role does culture play, and how do museums contribute to national identities?  These are questions that Wellesley Professor Peggy Levitt will address in her talk:

“The Bog and The Beast: Museums, the Nation, and the World”
Thursday, March 1

3:30-5 pm
Intercultural Center- Second Floor Multipurpose Room

As Prof. Levitt has written:

“During the 2008 presidential campaign, Barack Obama told an adoring crowd of more than 250,000 gathered in Berlin’s Tiergarten that he was speaking to them as a citizen of the United States and as a citizen of the world.

“The President’s globalism, however, stands in sharp contrast to the fierce nationalism and anti-immigrant fever plaguing Europe and the United States.  What do we make of these two seemingly irreconcilable views?

“Museums might seem like unlikely places to look for answers. But ever since August 1793, when the leaders of the new French Republic opened the doors of the Louvre to the public to celebrate Louis XVI’s demise, museums have strongly influenced how people imagine the nations where they live. To create a unified “team” out of millions of people who would never meet, museums showcased the knowledge and customs their citizens shared.

“But in today’s global world, have museums taken on the challenge of creating the global citizens of the future too? Where do they fall in the battle between multilingual globalism and parochial nationalism? Why do particular cities create regionally or internationally-focused institutions while others create museums that look barely past their front doors?

10 Replies to “The Bog and the Beast: Museums, The Nation, and the World”

  1. I think Professor Levitt raised several interesting points.

    One surrounds who actually controls the museum. It is the elite, or intelligentsia, who decide what goes into the museums and what does not. Because of this, it is the intelligentsia who get to define the national, regional, or international history, culture, and even meaning. Even in democratic societies, museums are still very nondemocratic in that there is a small range of self-appointed people involved in a large majority of the museums, and it is again these people who help to define the national consciousness.

    Another point that she mentions surrounds the building itself. It creates a sense of awe and inferiority by being massive and regal. The museums are often in the image of Roman temples—with similar effects—with a wall of steps in the front leading up to an imposing facade. Even the newer, postmodernistic museums rising up in the Middle East and other parts of the developing world, there is a grandness in a different sense. Rather than being magisterially grand, they are artistically grand; their art is not just on the inside, but the one-of-a-kind building itself. It also serves—assuming that it is not an eye sore—as a national symbol of having achieved a higher status in the world.

    A final point that Professor Levitt made (among many) is that artifacts in the museum are not necessarily used for the advancement of the culture they came from. Instead, they exist to demonstrate the culture of the society that they now belong to. The Danish use art and belongings from their former colonies to demonstrate their superiority. The British Museum held the Elgin Marbles up until recently not to exhibit the superiority of ancient Greek civilization but instead to show the grandness and depth of the British empire. It helps to instill nationalism in that it shows the powerful and civilization of the country; it cannot be truly cosmopolitan if it only looks inward.

  2. I truly enjoyed Peggy Levitt’s presentation, Museums, the Nation and the World. It was interesting to hear how Museums can contribute to the ideas of globalization. In class we discussed that one of the main reasons why globalization exists is because of imperialism; how in that period ideas were spread around the world. It was nice to hear about a more cultural reason why globalization occurs. Also visiting museums to spread ideas is a little less violent than what occurred during imperialism. Levitt was studying museums as one of the key elements as to becoming a global citizen. By visiting museums, and spreading ideas through that can help shift public policy and create a world community. The most interesting fact was how the Swedish Ethnographic museum has an exhibit called “World in the Trunks”. It was an interesting topic that the Swedish museum created an exhibit to showcase how Sweden has changed due to the ideas the people brought back to the nation. It helps show how Sweden has an understanding of world ideas. One of the paintings is a picture of a Swedish living room where people would listen to the radio. The radio is a Western idea so it shows how it influenced Swedish culture. I was very fascinated by Levitt’s topic and ideas; I am excited to hear about her work in Singapore.

  3. Hearing Professor Levitt’s lecture allowed me to have an entirely different outlook on museums. I had never given museums more thought than being collections of art or artifacts. The idea that they are institutions of cultural and national perspective is an interesting thesis. Levitt’s claim that “they [museums] represent internal diversity and the nation’s position in the world” opens many questions about the contents and theme of any particular museum. Her discussion of the Swedish Ethnographic Museum was a perfect example to illustrate this point. The exhibit “World in a Box” allowed a visitor to the museum to understand how the world appeared to a Swede at that point in time. This reminds me of a discussion we had in Intro to IGS, about the Chinese Age of Discovery. The collection of exotic animals that Zheng He brought back to China from Africa greatly changed the limited view of the world that Chinese had had up until that point.

  4. Professor Peggy Levitt’s presentation on “Museums, the Nation, and the World” was particularly interesting as it created awareness of how museums can play a significant part in creating a cultural block- national identities. She revealed that how museum artifacts, themes, and even the architecture were decided by a few elite. Rest of the citizens are hence, socialized to view an artifact in a museum as as the elite manipulates.
    Museums essentially represent diversity and the multiple ways of global production. They incorporate the cultural and historical impact of the specific region to create their own version of museums. They shape people’s ideas about the world outside. Furthermore, something interesting about historical art was that pictures of the European experience do not have labels. They are not virtually explained and instead left for its artistic value. She stressed that how a museum uses its material affects the extent to which it is global. Levitt also addressed how in America, in Boston particularly, John Winthrop called it a “city upon a hill,” hoping to create a place that would be an example to the world. In general, America is a huge model to other countries. She stressed that how a museum uses its material affects the extent to which it is global.

  5. I really enjoyed Professor Peggy Levitt’s presentation on “Museums, the Nation, and the World” because it is extremely interesting how museums can make the world more globalized while also creating a sense of nationalism to one’s own state. For example, Professor Levitt spoke about a painting that pictured a typical living room in Sweden, where people would sit around and listen to the radio. The fact that they listened to the radio, right away, is an example of globalization because the radio was originally part of Western culture. However, individuals must remember that Professor Levitt stated that the elite decide exactly what to display in museums, so in a way they themselves are defining the culture of the state, not the ordinary people. In Introduction to IGS, we learned that it is the ordinary people that define the nation and create a sense of nationalism, so this point that Professor Levitt brings up is very compelling. Overall, museums help to tell people what the outside world is like and was like, without having to travel to specific countries, and goes along with the saying “You don’t have to emigrate to innovate.”

  6. Professor Levitt raised some interesting points in her presentation “The Bog and the Beast: Museums, the Nation, and the World.” She discussed how museums are an integral part of globalization. When globalization began, countries started exploring other lands and brought goods from those countries back to their homeland. Professor Levitt mentioned that China brought back animals from Africa so the people of China could see what was out there in the rest of the world. Museums are the gateway for seeing what other countries have to offer. They also allow for people to see what ancient civilizations had to offer. They explain the world in a local location.
    I went to another presentation on museums and the focus on that presentation was how museums that were created during World War One in Australia and Canada were all created to show the bias of their sides and prove that they were a apart of the Empire. They show this through staged photos and propaganda. These two presentations really worked hand in hand to explain that museums are a part of globalization and they help the world see various places on earth.

  7. Professor Levitt’s presentation, “The Bog and the Beast: Museums, the Nation, and the World,” addressed globalization in an intriguing way by assigning museums as the centerpiece. She asked, “To what extent do museums see themselves as a cultural building block of society?” Prior to her presentation, I had not truly considered museums as a mode for globalization. Professor Levitt completely changed my outlook on museums. She mentioned that museums were shaping the view of the world for people and that certain things that we see to be of our own were actually inspired by other cultures around the world. As an example, she mentioned that the Liberty Bowl, iconic of Americans, was actually inspired by a Chinese punch bowl. It goes to show that even the things that we might perceive to be of our own culture, might actually be based on a different culture. According to Professor Levitt, “Museums are shaping the view of the world for people.” Her words are so true in that museums display different cultures so that the citizens of the world may experience a culture other than their own. Globalization through museums is happening and it is connecting the people of the world together to form a more cosmopolitan community.

  8. Professor Peggy Levitt’s presentation on “The Bog and the Beast: Museums, the Nation, and the World” was certainly interesting because it highlighted the major role museums play in forming a foundation for national identities and prestige. In class we discussed the role and existence of globalization and how in that during imperialism ideas and voices were made heard. It was good to learn that museums not only inculcate feelings of prestige, but also represent diversity and globalization. They incorporate all the elements of a region and create and preserve the sense of belonging. Levitt spoke about many countries and it really struck me how we never considered how museums are more than being collections of art or artifacts. They are the foundation to one’s culture and an escape into another culture. Just like we discussed the Chinese Age of Discovery in class, Professor Levitt mentioned that China brought back animals from Africa. This was eye-opening tot he people of China and they learnt that there were different cultures outside theirs. They were able to understand what the outside world was. Museums are an escape from one’s culture that enable one to learn about other countries, cultures and ancient civilizations. I was extremely intrigued by Professor Levitt’s presentation and want to learn more about her Singapore experiences.

  9. I was completely surprised in the direction that Professor Levitt went in her studies of globalization and cosmopolitanism. I never would have thought to use museums from all over the world to discuss such topics however after listening to her speak it makes sense. They help capture what a nation or certain area is about; I’ve always thought of them as just housing for exhibits and artifacts. What I found to be the most interesting part of the presentation was her discussion on Denmark and Sweden. That while Sweden believes in globalization for the greater good of the world, Denmark believes in globalizing just for the good of it’s own nation. It was surprising for me to find out that 1/5 of Sweden’s citizens were born outside of it’s own nation. I’d love to have her speak again sometime soon.

  10. I really enjoyed Professor Levitt’s presentation, and she took it in a different direction than I would have thought. I had never thought of museums as a way to form national, even international identities. The “World in a Box” Levitt presented, along with the Liberty Bowl, shows how truly global society has become. When thinking about revolutions like those we have discussed in class, I think globalization plays a big role. The democratic influence of the United States and other Western nations influences Eastern European nations, and those in the Middle East, to start revolutions against corrupt regimes or harsh dictators. I look forward to hearing more about Professor Levitt’s work after she visits Singapore.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *