Museum Without a Collection: Jewish Culture in the New Italian Multiculturalism

Feldman, Jeffrey David , Department of Anthropology, University of Virginia
Handler, Richard, Department of Anthropology, University of Virginia
Hantman, Jeffrey, Department of Anthropology, University of Virginia
Contini-Morava, Ellen, Department of Anthropology, University of Virginia
Confino, Alon, Department of History, University of Virginia

This dissertation is an ethnography of the Museo Ebraico in Bologna, Italy, based on fourteen months of fieldwork covering the museum's key phases of planning and its inauguration (May 1999). Drawing together the perspectives of constituencies in the museum and in Bologna's city center, I explore the collection, exhibition and education practices of this peculiar museum that failed to acquire the collection it was proposed to house. I investigate this "museum without a collection" by contrasting the state's valorization of Jewish artistic traditions with views on that project from the group being celebrated, considering the relationship between an "empty" Jewish museum and local Jews. The dissertation approaches the Jewish Museum of Bologna as a point of entry into the negotiation of collective ideals of what the nation and society should be--ideals that are hammered out in the social process of planning.

My argument unfolds in three sections. First, I define Italian multiculturalism
(Chapter I) and account for the central place of Jewish heritage projects in Italian "antiracism" (Chapter 2). Second, I focus on the planning and construction of the museum itself, examining the collection practices of the "virtual" Jewish Museum of Bologna (Chapter 2) and the impact on the local Jewish community of the museum's so-called "empty" galleries (Chapter 4). Third, I describe the museum's role in urban renovation and Holocaust commemoration, including the establishment of a shopkeeper's association in Bologna's Jewish ghetto (Chapter 5), and the local significance of Benigni's Life is Beautiful (Chapter 6). I conclude that despite the intentions of the project planners, the Jewish Museum of Bologna at the time it was inaugurated had reinforced the very forms of intolerance it was designed to overcome.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
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