Interpretation and Meaning-Making in Cultural Institutions


MSL2330H — Interpretation and Meaning-Making in Cultural Institutions

This course explores contemporary practices of interpretive planning in various museums. In order to study how museums do interpretation, we explore a series of contemporary interdisciplinary theories of interpretation and discuss in depth different articulations of what and who constitutes the museum’s publics and communities. Further, we apply these theoretical perspectives to interpretive planning and work on a variety of individual and group projects in order to experiment with various interpretive practices. We reflect critically and in depth on official and unofficial forms of public programming and education visible in different cultural spaces and we investigate various interpretative methods utilized by cultural institutions to communicate with their audiences.

As visitor centered institutions, museums engage in various acts of interpretation, either large scale, as it is the case of interpretive planning or in more obvious ways, through public programming and various other practices. Generally, this course observes interpretation as a form of communication with diverse audiences as museums are, first and foremost, public communicators. Therefore, this course has as its main objective to show students the multiple forms which interpretation, a very dynamic process, takes in a museum. The course educates students about two sides of interpretation: (1) the practices of meaning making (the crafting and communication of meaning) in various types of museums by museum professionals and (2) the complex and “messy” ways in which visitors make meaning (understand, translate and negotiate meaning) in museum environments.