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Museums, ethics and truth : why museums' collecting policies must face up to the problem of testimony

Tonner, Philip (2016) Museums, ethics and truth : why museums' collecting policies must face up to the problem of testimony. Royal Institute of Philosophy Supplement, 79. pp. 159-177. ISSN 1358-2461

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Abstract

This paper argues that any museum's collecting policy must face up to the problem of vulnerability. Taking as a starting point an item in the collections of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, I argue that the basic responsibility of museums to collect ‘things’, and to communicate information about them in a truthful way brings their collecting practice into the epistemological domain of testimony and into the normative domain of ethics. Museums are public spaces of memory, testimony, representation and interpretation that at once enable humanity to hold to account those who transgress while at the same time holding to account those who witness these transgressions. By virtue of this, museums can be considered spaces of ethics wherein testimonial and hermeneutic injustice can be confronted and challenged.