Design, Society and Cultures of Display in Museums

How to Structure and Design?
When you visit a museum, do you ever think about how the exhibits are presented to you? How can everything scholars know about a topic, and all the artefacts representing it, be condensed into one building or gallery? And how has it all been arranged to provide you with a stimulating visitor experience?
Course levelAdvanced Bachelor/Master/PhD
Session 214 July to 28 July 2018 
Recommended course combination 
Session 1: Decolonizing Europe: History, Memory, Redress (with Brown University)
Session 3: Impact of An Empire
Co-ordinating lecturersDr M.H. Groot
Other lecturersTo be confirmed
Form(s) of tuitionLectures, excursions, group discussions, presentations
Form(s) of assessmentAssignments, poster pitch, essay/paper (depending upon level)
ECTS3 credits
Contact hours45
Tuition fee€1150

Students and professionals interested in cultural history, design history and theory, material culture, science culture, anthropology, collecting, collections and museums. If you have doubts about your eligibility for the course, please let us know. Our courses are multi-disciplinary and therefore are open to students and professionals with a wide variety of backgrounds. 

The ways museums present artifacts and knowledge offer us different perspectives on human culture. Each style of display, each form of classification, reflects and contextualizes our knowledge of the subject matter in its own manner, while exhibition design aims to create a lasting impact on the viewer. 

This course looks at how museums and exhibitions are structured and designed. Which objects are selected, which are left out, and why? Besides gaining an insight into the nature of museums and exhibitions themselves, you also learn about design and about the representation of culture – in the material, the scientific and the human sense. And you experience how methods of classifying and labelling objects underpin human culture and science, past and present, and present us with a particular historical and cultural narrative.

There is no better place to discover museum mapping than Amsterdam, with its plethora of exhibition spaces, large and small. From some of the world’s greatest museums of art, decorative arts, material culture and design – the Rijksmuseum and Stedelijk Museum  – through many centuries of historical showcases of so-called historic house-museums, to specialist institutions devoted to everything from microbes to technology to non-European cultures, to  social housing to bags and purses. Naturally, visits to a broad cross-section of these museums are an integral part of the course, providing you with hands-on mapping experience and insight.


At the end of this course, you:

  • Better understand the historical development and structure of museums for objects of design and material culture.
  • Can evaluate historical knowledge in the context of tangible museums.
  • Gain some historical knowledge of styles and forms of material culture and design.
  • Better understand different levels of material culture and design (popular and elite) and the interaction – or lack of it – between “high” and “low” culture.
  • Better understand how presentations of design and material culture function as representations of our society .
  • Are able to present and contextualize design and material culture for a wider audience.

Prof pic

Marjan Groot studied Cultural Anthropology and Art History in Amsterdam and Leiden, and graduated from the Academy for Art and Design in Amsterdam. She received a doctorate in the Humanities with the specialization in Design History and Theory from the University of Leiden. She works as associate professor and lecturer in the history of Western Design and Decorative Arts at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam since 2016. In her research she seeks to combine historical knowledge of design and decorative art with contemporary theoretical perspectives and frameworks. Recent research and publications are about the blurring of boundaries between decorative arts, folk art and gender constructions; political and religious conflicts between western and non-western cultures as mediated by artifacts; and relations between design and biotechnology. Among her publications are a reference work on women designers and gender constructions in the Netherlands between 1880 and 1940 (2007); and papers about ornament, taste and gender, ‘Bio-Design and rhetoric’ (2014, 2015), and most recently ‘Tokyo Halloween’ (2017). She has worked with important museums in the Netherlands on design exhibitions.

"Looking at museum presentations from the point of view of design and culture opens up new worlds. Not only do we take a closer look at artifacts and objects, we will also examine them in the context of presentations and display that today more than ever before seduce the audience to engage with a topic represented by material culture."

At least six half-day visits to a wide variety of museums in and around Amsterdam, all with a direct relevance to course lectures and assignments.
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