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Museum Anthropology

disciplining bodies, disciplining objects: Museum Guards and the Museu Etnológico Português (1893–1929)

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Abstract

This article takes a microhistorical approach to the creation of a national museum by exploring the everyday practices of museum guards in the early history of the Museu Etnológico Português, now known as the Museu Nacional de Arqueologia, in Lisbon, Portugal. Using documentary sources such as letters, museum regulations, and notes, I explore the agency of the museum's first guards by identifying the ways they both enacted the prescribed behaviors of the museum and also challenged and transgressed these ideals, thereby shaping the cultural space of the museum. I suggest that guards, in the early years of the museum, functioned primarily as agents for marking social boundaries and as sites where transformations in the Portuguese social order were contested and, only secondarily, as individuals charged with protecting the security of objects. [Portugal, museum guards, microhistory, agency, national museums]

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