Ethics looms large in the museum world. For example, the International Council of Museums (ICOM) has an elaborate Code of Ethics which is translated into many languages and distributed to all its members.
The latest addition to the field of museum ethics is an Institute of Museum Ethics (IME) at Seton Hall University, NJ. Its mission is:
- to promote accountability, transparency and social responsibility in the museum
- to foreground museum ethics as one of the most pivotal issues to museum professionals in the twenty first century
- to create a physical and virtual community of emerging and practicing museum professionals and museum studies faculty who use our resources to make informed decisions about ethical issues.
Last weekend an inaugural conference was organized “to discuss what we mean by the terms transparency, accountability, and social responsibility”.
Next conference will then probably be about why “museum ethics as one of the most pivotal issues to museum professionals in the twenty first century”.
I’d like to see some arguments for this claim, because I believe it’s an exaggeration. ‘Ethics’ all too easily becomes a discourse about everything. Like when the IME holds that “museum ethics concerns all areas of museum work from governance to education, registration to exhibitions, since ethical dilemmas occur in all departments and each can work for the common good”. In their view, ethics is about “how the museum encourages social understanding and promotes human rights”. In short “museum ethics is about an institution’s relationship with its public(s)”.
Well, if this is the case, then not many museum activities fall outside the domain of ethics. So why not take the name Institute of Museum Studies instead?