The risk of historical artefacts in travel: The construction of risk in the international travelling exhibition

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This article interrogates the risk of historical artefacts in travel, emphasising especially on the construction of the risk of boundary-crossing when museum exhibits travel abroad through "outbound" international travelling exhibitions. This follows the history of a controversial exhibition, the "Splendour of Imperial China" held in 1996 that travelled from the National Palace Museum in Taipei which is renowned for its abundant and unique Chinese art collection to one of the most prominent museums on the global stage - the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Drawing upon Mary Douglas's analysis of danger/risk and classification, this paper argues that the risk within the "outbound" international travelling exhibition is less ontological than constructed. Often the controversy over the risk re-delineates the boundary between "us" and "them". This article, first of all. examines the power-laden relationship, regulated by the struggle of the global museum field, when museum experts at home and abroad co-write the risk of an exhibition's travel in the language of insurance calculation. Second, it analyses the laymen's protesting discourses against the historical artefacts' overseas travel through outbound international travelling exhibition. The protest which appropriated the "keeping-while-giving" logic of exchange, and backed up with both national sentiments and international symbolic sources, rendered the exhibition a hot potato. Finally, it interrogates how the settled outbound travelling exhibition actually renders the museum collection reclassified and revalorized according to their suitability for overseas travel.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)266-283
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Historical Sociology
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2006 Sept
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • History
  • Sociology and Political Science


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