MC1HPE-Museum History, Policy and Ethics

Module Provider: The Museum of English Rural Life
Number of credits: 20 [10 ECTS credits]
Terms in which taught: Spring term module
Non-modular pre-requisites:
Modules excluded:
Current from: 2020/1

Module Convenor: Dr Rhi Smith


Type of module:

Summary module description:
This module explores and critically analyses the historical, political and ethical factors which influence contemporary museum practice. It investigates topics such as the origins of museums, collecting histories, social justice, repatriation, hidden voices, and the role of different audiences in curation. Case studies and museological theory are used to debate the role of museums in modern society. Students take part in lectures, seminars and museum visits and work is assessed through two coursework essays and a presentation.

Museums are shaped by wide-ranging historical, ethical and political influences. This module explores the historical and political context of museum development in the UK. It also examines some of the central ethical debates within the wider museums sector and discusses the function that museums serve in contemporary society.

Assessable learning outcomes:
By the end of the module it is expected that students will be able to:
- Identify and discuss current ethical debates within the museum world
- Identify and discuss different historical and political influences on a particular museum.
- Apply museum professional guidelines to resolve an ethical dilemma.

Additional outcomes:
Through planning visits to other museums students will develop their organisational and networking skills. They will also develop observational and recording skills through their analysis of other museums. Students' communication skills will be further developed through seminar discussions, and an organised debate. Digital research skills will be developed by using online resources related to museum history, policy and ethics.

Outline content:
This module will examine the historical and political factors which influence the formation of museums. It will begin by examining the challenges which face modern museums. The module will explore how specific museum policies are developed and their relationship with broader political changes. It also examines some of the ethical questions which all museums face. Students will engage with contemporary debates and examine how far ethical guidelines can resolve these problems. The module will g o on to interrogate the historical and social context in which museums developed as cultural institutions. This will include an examination of how late 20th and early 21st century identity politics have challenged the authority of the museum. This contextual and theoretical information will be used to predict and evaluate potential future trajectories for museums in the UK. The University of Reading museums and collections will be used as a starting point for analysis, alongside other historical and international case studies. Students will also be taught how to use digital research and field trips to make their own observations.

Brief description of teaching and learning methods:
This module will be taught in the Museum of English Rural Life. Lectures will introduce theory and practice while seminars will involve the application of these ideas to concrete examples. Lectures will be interactive and will include contributions by MERL archive, curatorial, education and conservation staff, who will connect their areas of expertise to wider issues regarding museums. Seminars will provide the opportunity to clarify and interrogate elements of lectures and will also be used to plan, discuss and check progress on course tasks. Group activities in seminars will develop student's interpersonal, research and communication skills. Assignments ask students to apply theory to specific case studies and involve self-led research.
As a 20 credit module Museum Policy, History and Ethics should involve 200 hours of study time. You should expect the following sort of workload:
- 22 hours in formal teaching. This will include: 1 hour introduction to accessing historica l resources in the MERL Reading Room; 1 hour small group session on collating and critiquing different sources of evidence.
- 30 hours: Reading for, preparation of, and writing your ethics essay.
- 20 hours: Reading for, preparation of, and writing your history essay.
- 20 hours: Gathering materials for your history essay.
- 18 hours: Researching, writing and practicing your oral presentation (with powerpoint slides and handout).
- 10 hours: Accessing museum news a nd policy websites to find topics to discuss in class i.e. 1 hour a week.
- 20 hours: visiting and taking notes at local and regional museums.
- 60 hours: General background reading and note-taking from key texts for each week's topic(s) - i.e. 6 hours per week.

Assignments require students to conduct independent research. Students will be responsible for the management of their own assignments. An enquiry-based learning structure will support students in seminars as the y undertake research on assignments.

Contact hours:
  Autumn Spring Summer
Lectures 10
Seminars 10
Practicals classes and workshops 2
Supervised time in studio/workshop 5
Fieldwork 20
Guided independent study: 153
Total hours by term 200
Total hours for module 200

Summative Assessment Methods:
Method Percentage
Written assignment including essay 90
Oral assessment and presentation 10

Summative assessment- Examinations:

Summative assessment- Coursework and in-class tests:

Formative assessment methods:
Formative task examining University of Reading collections archives. Group oral presentation with verbal feedback.

Penalties for late submission:

The Module Convenor will apply the following penalties for work submitted late:

  • where the piece of work is submitted after the original deadline (or any formally agreed extension to the deadline): 10% of the total marks available for that piece of work will be deducted from the mark for each working day[1] (or part thereof) following the deadline up to a total of five working days;
  • where the piece of work is submitted more than five working days after the original deadline (or any formally agreed extension to the deadline): a mark of zero will be recorded.
The University policy statement on penalties for late submission can be found at:
You are strongly advised to ensure that coursework is submitted by the relevant deadline. You should note that it is advisable to submit work in an unfinished state rather than to fail to submit any work.

Assessment requirements for a pass:
A mark of 40% overall

Reassessment arrangements:
Re-submission of coursework in August/September

Additional Costs (specified where applicable):
1) Required text books:
2) Specialist equipment or materials:
3) Specialist clothing, footwear or headgear:
4) Printing and binding:
5) Computers and devices with a particular specification:
6) Travel, accommodation and subsistence:

Last updated: 4 April 2020


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