Advocates and Allies: The Impact of Activist Museums in the Struggle for Human Rights – “Human Rights Challenges in the 21st Century” – 10 May 2017

I had the privilege of speaking at the “Human Rights Challenges in the 21st Century” conference held on 10 May 2017 at Birmingham City University. The conference, as the title suggests, focused on recent human rights struggles and while it was a multidisciplinary event, many of the speakers came from law and policy backgrounds.

My paper highlights my PhD work to better understand the nature of the impact of activist museums in the struggle for human rights. My abstract is as follows:

What is the social value of museums that advocate for human rights?  What kinds of impact do these museums have on the ways in which audiences think, talk about and potentially act on human rights issues? This paper identifies recent trends in the heritage sector to highlight, engage with, and promote human rights as an embedded ethos. Some members of the heritage sector have begun to adopt what Sandell and Dodd (2010) refer to as activist museum practice. Though initially describing trends in the sector focused on reshaping audience views on disability, Sandell has since advocated for a wider adoption of activist museum practice in relation to a number of human rights contexts. Activist practice seeks to promote positive social-political outcomes and advance human and civil rights. Concurrently, there has been an increase in the development of museums dedicated specifically to civil and human rights as well as professional networks of human rights museums such as the Coalition for Sites of Conscience and the Federation of International Human Rights Museums.

My research has been focused on developing a better understanding of the impact of civil and human rights museums on audiences. More specifically I have sought to understand what sorts of changes in individuals’ attitudes and understandings were prevalent following a visit to an activist museum and whether potential personal commitments to action made at the time of the visit persisted in the six month period following. At the same time I wanted to better understand how the museum visit fits within the wider context of experiences visitors have outside of the museum. This paper explores the challenges of undertaking a longitudinal study of museum visitors and will reveal some preliminary findings which bolsters the case for museums as important advocates for human rights.

If you are interested in requesting a copy please contact me and I would be happy to supply it. A brief excerpt is included below.

Bergevin, J. (2017). Advocates and Allies – Excerpt