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Title: Behind the scenes at the Magic House : an ethnography of the Indian Museum, Calcutta
Author: Elliott, M. J.
Awarding Body: University of Cambridge
Current Institution: University of Cambridge
Date of Award: 2003
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Abstract:
This dissertation is about the people who work in a museum. It explores the way “museum people” relate to the institution; to the work they do in it, to its public and to the objects contained therein. It is also an ethnography of a particular museum: the Indian Museum, Calcutta, established by the British in 1814 and the oldest museum in South Asia, with collections covering anthropology, archaeology, art and natural history. This work contributes to a range of interests within academic museology and anthropology. It critiques the preoccupation of the existing literature with the grand narratives of museum-makers and managers - that the museum is an important educational institution and plays a crucial role in creating and fostering national cultural identity - and addresses the Museum’s purported ‘failure’ to fully engage with its public, and to become ‘rooted’ in Indian culture and society. The thesis has two principal goals. First, it seeks to balance recent anthropological and sociological accounts of museums which have explored the way non-human agents (objects, discourses) operate within the museum, by returning the focus to the human agents responsible for carrying out the institution’s projects, who have been hitherto denied a voice. As an ethnography of a state-funded organisation in India it contributes to anthropological literature on organisations, and views the relationships between people, objects and discourses with the larger institutional context in which such relationships are performed. Second, it seeks to reintroduce museums in India into debates about the role of museums. It examines the museum as an “alien” cultural model on Indian soil, which remains alien nearly two centuries after its introduction. Allotted the role of mass education and fostering national identity and a pride in India’s cultural heritage, the Indian Museum, for many of its visitors, remains the Jadughar, or “House of Magic”. Visitors engage with the Museum in ways which are deemed ‘inappropriate’ by the authorities. The Museum thus presents fascinating comparisons with traditional Western understanding of such institutions: comparisons examined in this thesis an exploration of themes of sacred space, ritual action, and ways of seeing which have figured largely in academic studies of the museum form.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID: uk.bl.ethos.598810  DOI: Not available
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