POLIN Museum
26 November 2015

Materializing History: Time and Telos at POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews

Gerbrands Lecture | 26 Nov 2015 | RCMC

Professor Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett delivered the 5th Annual Gerbrands Lecture.

Time and Telos at POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews

The POLIN Museum was built on the rubble of the destroyed Warsaw ghetto and prewar Jewish neighborhood of Warsaw. The core exhibition stages the thousand-year history of Polish Jews within a theater of history. It was created from scratch, without an historic building and without a collection. The starting point was the story, rather than a collection, and our top priority was to bring that story to life. Although objects were purchased and borrowed for the core exhibition, objects alone could not tell this thousand-year story. What we lack in material heritage we make up for in intangible heritage.

This presentation will explore the role of intangible heritage in materializing the history of Polish Jews, with special attention to time and telos – in particular, creating a narrative arc and a mode of narration in the historical present that would resist the teleology of the Holocaust.


Barbara Kirshennblatt-Gimblett, a world-renowned anthropologist, is a professor at the Performance Studies Department of the Tisch School of Arts, New York, where she teaches the history and theory of museums, world fairs and tourism in conjunction with the school’s Museum Studies programme. Her work, Destination Culture: Tourism, Museums and Heritage (1998) explores the museum as a historical formation and emergent medium in relation to its changing rol in society. Kirshennblatt-Gimblett also consults for many museums, most recently the Museum of History of Polish Jews in Warsaw.

Adriaan Gerbrands Lecture

The Adriaan Gerbrands lecture is an annual public lecture by a laureate chosen for his or her contribution to the broad international field of the study of visual and material culture. 

The lecture is organized by the Fund for Ethnology Leiden (FEL), the National Museum for Ethnology (Rijksmuseum Volkenkunde), the Beeld voor Beeld Documentary Film Festival, and the Institute for Cultural Anthropology and Development Sociology (Leiden University).