The Centre for Anthropological Research on Museums and Heritage (CARMAH) hosted a well-attended panel discussion on the subject of What are museums good for in the 21st Century? Around the world, new museums are being built and older ones are being revitalized. Many are interrogating and redefining their roles and purpose; and are positioning themselves as significant actors in public culture, aiming to prompt social reflection, inspire creativity and foster senses of cosmopolitan citizenship. The discussion centred around such questions as: Are museums really good at playing their self-chosen (public) roles? Do other institutions do it better? Are collections a help or a hindrance? How productive are notions such as ‘curiosity’, ‘inclusion’ and ‘dialogue’? And what else are museums good for in the 21st Century?
After an insightful impulse by Nicholas Thomas, Director of the Museum of Anthropology and Archaeology at the University of Cambridge and author of his recently published book The Return of Curiosity. What Museums are Good for in the 21st Century (2016, London: Reaktion Books), a lively discussion amongst panelists and audience ensued. Chaired by CARMaH Director Sharon Macdonald, panel members Inka Bertz (Head of Collections, Jewish Museum Berlin), Verena Lepper (Curator for Egyptian and Oriental Papyri, Egyptian Museum of Berlin), Sven Sappelt (Curator, Humboldt Lab, Humboldt Universität zu Berlin) and Bernd Scherer (Director, Haus der Kulturen der Welt) introduced further diverse perspectives from their own museum experience that reflected their own very different outlooks on museums in Berlin and beyond.