The COVID-19 pandemic poses new challenges for universities, reshaping higher education for years to come. However, university collections and museums have been confronted with difficult times before. Twenty years ago, Universeum (in 2000) and UMAC (in 2001) were created in a period of crisis and profound change for university museums and collections. How we work together as an international community, sharing problems, ideas and new perspectives in times of crisis and transition will be an underlying theme of the conference.

In 2020, we had new opportunities to share our experiences of COVID19 and its impact on our practices, our capacity to respond, survive and adapt. In UMAC-Universeum 2021, we would like to use these experiences to explore broad lessons of adaptability and resilience. Although all different, university museums and collections across the world share the need to remain relevant to contemporary higher education – particularly research and teaching –, to their communities and to society at large. This need is especially important in times of crises, which the COVID-19 pandemic has made more salient. How can we define the relevance and potential of university collections and museums in times of social, economic and cultural uncertainty?

We would like to explore three main topics:

COLLECTIONS: DOCUMENTING THE PAST AND THE PRESENT

  • The relevance of university collections in time of crises: when the future is unknown we try to mobilize knowledge of a known past. A first reaction to understanding Covid-19 was to mobilize a body of knowledge already established in the past and likely to provide answers. Some of those answers were provided by scientific collections preserved in various universities, research institutes or museums (i.e. samples of Spanish flu virus; 1960s artificial breathing machine). How much do U-collections participate in the building of new knowledge? What collections are being created as a result of COVID-19?

COLLECTIONS AND MUSEUMS CLOSED: NEW WAYS OF ACCESS

  • Access to our collections for the many: with lockdowns, closed borders, limitations on mobility, this pandemic raises the question of the accessibility of our collections and museums, whether for research, teaching or communication and engagement more broadly.  How much did we learn about this forced digital experience on the one hand, and the need to “keep the distance” during physical engagement with our museums and collections? How much can we learn from these experiences? What would become new practices and what are their limits?

ENGAGING WITH SOCIETY, TAKING STANCES

  • U-museums have a special position in breaking through the walls between the public and the academy to facilitate dialogue. This is a very important but difficult role in these polarized times with a growing distrust towards science and knowledge elites, in this era of ‘Fake News’ and conspiracy-driven activism. The communication of knowledge generated by universities is therefore more than ever, of great importance for the academic community. How do U-museums pick up on this role of assisting academics to reach out to all parts of society? How do they position themselves in these lively contemporary debates? Do they act merely as facilitators or conduits of information or do they take a stand as advocates?

The Conference Committee for UMAC – UNIVERSEUM 2021 are now welcoming submissions from all over the world that address the topics outlined above. The proposals may have the following formats:

FLASH TALKS – Short and provocative 5-min presentation focused on a single concept, innovation or bright idea presented with minimal visual material

ORAL PAPERS – 10+5 minute presentation that provides analysis and insight into the conference topics outlined above.

WORKSHOPS – 1 hour proposals from an individual, or team, who can provide engagement for an online audience around a particular topic or theme. It can be a form of professional development.

VIDEOS – Would you like to promote your museum, collection, university or specific project at UMAC-UNIVERSEUM 2021? As the conference is online, we are seeking short videos (around or under 10 minutes duration, mp4 format) that communicates the activity of our sector. This is an excellent way of sharing best practice and raising the profile of your work and your institution. Videos can be ones already made or made especially for the conference, innovative and engaging media from students are also welcome.

If you are unsure of whether your video would be suitable, please contact us (see below). UMAC – UNIVERSEUM 2021 reserves the right not to accept every video submitted.

Submission details

Conference language: English

A certificate will be issued for all accepted presentations regardless of format.

Submissions should be sent before 18 April 2021 to: Wenjia Qiu qiuwenjia(at)sjtu.edu.cn

Announcement of results: June 2021

 

Note: Both UMAC’s and Universeum’s missions aim to advance the field of higher education museums, collections and heritage. Proposals outside this scope will not be accepted. Please make sure to include the university angle in your proposal.