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Museum of London: Curating the City (Module)

Module description

Curating the City explores the cultural and social history of London in the twentieth century through the collections of the Museum of London. Combining an academic module focused on cultural history and criticism with behind-the-scenes access to a major historic collection, the course introduces students to contemporary museum curatorship and how to interpret the city through literature, film, architecture and material culture.

The Museum of London tells the story of Britain’s capital from prehistory to modern times. The museum’s staff are responsible for the conservation, research, display, and public engagement of over a million objects from several thousands of years of London’s history.  From the extraordinary to the everyday, the museum keeps objects of every kind: from paintings, prints and photographs, to items of clothing, ephemera, shop fittings, cars, fatbergs and even the 2012 Olympic cauldron, all of which are used to bring the past to life. What can these collections reveal about London and its people over the last century? How should these collections be collected and curated? What sorts of stories or histories do they tell and what do they leave untold? And – as the museum prepares for its move to new premises – what should a city museum for the 21st century be?

In order to address these questions, the course is divided into three distinct themes. The first week examines the role, scope and framing of a city museum, through visits to a variety of exhibition spaces and galleries, sessions with Museum of London Curators and seminars that explore the various critical frameworks used to interpret both the city and its history. The second week considers museum collections – how do curators know what to collect? What debates and critical lenses should we use to read a museum object? How can we collect the contemporary? The third and final week considers curating exhibitions and the future of the museum – with sessions led by curators on producing and designing exhibitions, to seminars on how museums engage with digital culture, to current conversations surrounding the future of the Museum and its forthcoming move to Smithfield.

By the end of the module, students should have developed a keen awareness of the connection between material culture and historical narrative, especially as it relates to the history of London in the twentieth century. Students should also have a more solid understanding of the connection between cultural production and emerging issues in the arts sector, especially the role of museums in communicating the story of London to a diverse public.

This module will consist of a minimum of 45 contact hours with teaching taking place between 10am and 5pm from Monday to Friday. This is the 2018 timetable but please note that content and timings are subject to change.

Learning outcomes and objectives 

By the end of the module, you should have:

  • developed an understanding of modern museum and gallery curatorship, from issues relating to technical conservation and restoration, to conceptual challenges in research and exhibition.
  • developed an understanding of how history research methodologies and public-sector practices/policies are applied to museum operations.
  • identified and elaborated on key events, moments, locations, and characters in the history of London during the twentieth century.
  • built an awareness of the connection between material culture/material culture studies and historical narrative, especially as it relates to the history of London in the twentieth century.
  • developed a solid understanding of the connection between cultural production and public-sector arts management, especially as it relates to the role of museums in communicating the history of London to a diverse public.

Staff information

Taught by the Department of English, Faculty of Arts & Humanities, King’s College London

Teaching pattern

  • Taught onsite at King's and at the Museum of London with supervised access to museum artefacts and resources
  • Lectures
  • Seminars and tutorials
  • Supervised field work
  • Private study

Module assessment - more information

  • Essay of 2,500 words (85%)
  • Class presentation (10 minutes) (15%)

Key information

Module code 4ZSS0084

Credit level 4

Assessment coursework presentation/s

Credit value Classes can often be taken for credit towards degrees at other institutions, and are examined to university standards. To receive credit for King's summer classes, contact your home institution to ask them to award external credit. This class is equivalent to an undergraduate degree module and usually awarded 3-4 US credits or 7.5 ECTS.

Semester summer session 1

Study abroad module No