By Steven Kotze
The Museums and Galleries History Group (MGHG) was founded in 2002 when a group of British academics and curatorial staff hosted a symposium at the National Gallery in London, entitled, ‘Museums and their Histories’. The MGHG provides a platform for debate and contact among anyone connected to the world of museums and galleries to understand these institutions from historical and theoretical perspectives. Topics engaged by MGHG represent wide-ranging, interdisciplinary and international themes, and conferences hosted by the Group offer opportunities for considerations of the place of museum history within academic discourse, and the importance of such discussions for current museum practice.
The 2016 MGHG conference took place from 7-8 September, at the Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology, which is attached to Oxford University. Founded in 1683, this institution is one of the oldest of its kind in the world, if not the oldest, and contains celebrated collections which “range from Egyptian mummies to contemporary art, telling human stories across cultures and across time.” http://www.ashmolean.org/about/
The focus of this year’s gathering was “Gendering Museum History”, which was covered in a broad variety of papers, including a fascinating presentation by the keynote speaker Merete Ipsen, who represented the Women’s Museum in Denmark. Her lecture charted the evolution of this ground-breaking museum over the past four decades from one of the first locations to engage actively with the need for “Women’s History” to be seen, to its current form as a site for exploring “Gender Culture”. Local History Museums researcher Steve Kotze attended the conference as part of preparations for the completion of eThekwini Municipaliy’s new Mkhumbane Museum. His presentation at the conference focussed on current research to highlight the vital contribution of African women to the history of Durban and South Africa, which will be incorporated in exhibitions at Mkhumbane Museum once the site it opened to the public.