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26 October 2022
Changing Museum Times
In his latest book, Professor Leslie Witz argues that the conventions and traditions of museums need to be re-evaluated and re-imagined if we are to do justice to changing histories.

Prof Witz is a published author and a senior professor at the University of the Western Cape’s (UWC) Department of History.

He’s been at UWC since 1990 and, over the years, has authored and co-authored numerous books, including Write Your Own History and Apartheid’s Festival.

In his latest book, Museum Times, Witz takes a critical look at how histories are conceptualised at museums and how they engage their public through engagements with objects, artefacts and installations.

Witz said: “The book argues two things. One, is that museums became a post-apartheid place where histories were happening and being interrupted in a different way to writing though objects and spaces. I was interested in why museums had become the site of history in South Africa post-1994.

“Secondly, I look at how the idea of time is formulated in museums, not just as a site of history but also how museums configure the idea of time in different ways.”

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Witz said that in Museum Times, he argues that some museums lengthen time, some shorten time, some decide where time begins and where time ends and how they do it through objects.

What Museum Times presents is the argument that museums can be spaces that challenge conventions. “Museums historically have been disciplining institutions. But there are interactive possibilities.

“Museums primarily conserve and preserve time, but I want to see the museum changing time. That is my ideal for a museum,” said Witz.
Witz presents a strong case that there is room for museums to move away from the fixation on conservation.

He said: “The book is about the tension between museums changing or not changing. I would like the reader to imagine how museums could change in exciting ways, not just sustaining themselves but becoming spaces that challenge and contest history. That it's not just a dead space, but where conversations and ideas flow.”

Picture by Ruvan Boshoff/UWC Media