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Call for papers for cross-disciplinary conference exploring 'National Museums: Narrating the Nation'

The National Museum of Ireland and the National College of Art and Design, Dublin, have issued a call for papers for a cross-disciplinary conference exploring the topic of 'National Museums: Narrating the Nation'.

The conference will address how the conception, collecting, exhibitions and experience of national museums have worked and been understood in the creation and maintenance of ideas of the nation. 

The conference will take place on Friday, 29 October 2021, and Friday, 5 November 2021.

Proposals are invited for contributions that interrogate, analyse and illuminate national museums in their contemporary and historical contexts. 

The National Museum of Ireland originated in the collections of various institutions. When the museum opened as the Museum of Science and Art, Dublin, it was part of a network that included the South Kensington museums in London and its collections included Irish antiquities, decorative arts, ethnographical collections and natural history specimens. Following the foundation of the Irish state in 1922, its focus shifted to include Irish folklife material and artefacts connected with Irish archaeology.

The question of who or what is the nation has been asked repeatedly throughout the Museum’s history, and always in response to the needs and concerns of the present.

Ireland has also had the distinction of being a colony and engaged in colonial activities as part of the British Empire and through military, missionary and commercial activities. In our age – marked by identity conflicts, the politics of decolonisation, and populism in Europe and elsewhere – the ideology of the nation has become a matter of keen concern again. 

This conference will provide a forum for discussion of current museum practices and debates in different national settings. Moreover, with plans in development for new 20th Century History of Ireland Galleries, it will support the task of helping the NMI to reflect on its current and future displays. 

The conference will contribute to our understanding of how ideas about the nation have been collected, visualised, manufactured, articulated, materialised, displayed and performed in national museums in the past and in the present day.

Proposals are welcomed from researchers and practitioners across various fields including Museum Studies, Anthropology, Archaeology, Art History, Architectural History, History of Media, Design History, Geography, Cultural History, Sociology and Critical Theory.

Themes could include:
  • The agonistic museum (the museum as a space for disputation) 

  • Museological representations of contested geographies (for example, borders and border zones, disputed territories)

  • National museums and populism 

  • Museum building in the new Europe (particularly Eastern Europe post 1989)

  • National museums after conflict - role of museums after civil war / internal strife - Sarajevo, Belfast, etc

  • Museum Collections and Diasporic and Deterritorialized Peoples

  • The Participatory Museum Revisited - thinking about the impact of politics on museum design/operation/display

  • Museums and imagining the future 

  • Foundational myths of national museums

  • National museums and folklife

  • National museums and ethnography

  • National museums and conflict

  • National museums and decolonisation

  • ‘National’ artefacts and everyday material culture

  • National museums and independence movements

  • National museums and civil rights

  • Programmes of collecting which connect, which connect with underrepresented and minority communities

The conference will be held both online and in person before a limited audience in the National Museum of Ireland. Speakers will have the option to present remotely or on site (within any requirements relating to Covid safety).

Proposals should take the form of an abstract of 100-200 words plus a short biographical statement. Proposals should be emailed to by 30 June 2021.

A selection will be made and speakers will be informed by mid-July 2021.

For further information or queries, please contact


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