‘Gendering Objects at the V&A and Vasa Museums’
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This article presents two case studies which are the result of an application of a gendered interpretative tool to the collections at the Victoria & Albert Museum (London) and the Vasa Museum (Stockholm). Objects and their gendered narratives within the museums’ collections have been researched across their lifecycle from commission and manufacture to consumption and display in a museum setting. This research has been developed in close co-operation between researchers/curators/museum professionals. It responds to a need for museums to have gender better integrated into narratives of the past and present. Transforming curatorial and curatorial practice is at the heart of this work, and the research seeks to develop best practice guidance on making diverse gendered history more visible in the museum space. The team of researchers, curators and museum professionals have identified and researched a selection of early modern objects and their gendered narratives within the museum’s collections. This article uses two hats held at the Vasa and V&A to demonstrate this methodology. Woollen and beaver hats are gendered in terms of their intended wearer; the predominantly female labour of the wool industry; the impact of the beaver skin trade on Native American gender dynamics; and the status of headwear as an index of anxiety about gender nonconformity. An innovative outcome of the research has been a raising of the awareness of gender (which encompasses women and men, femininities and masculinities, sexualities and identities) as an important interpretative category within the museum environment, and the important role this can play in generating diverse narratives that have wider societal impact disseminated through curatorial practice, as well as educational and public programming.
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