Publication Details

Purser, E. Rose. (2000). Telling stories: text analysis in a museum. In E. Ventola (Eds.), Discourse and community: doing functional linguistics (pp. 169-198). Germany: Gunter Narr Verlag Tubingen.


Museum texts tell interesting stories, and their role in public education makes them quite important. The exhibition discussed in this paper gives a message that interests, but also concerns me, as a teacher of language, communication and cultural studies. It is a case of one culture telling stories about another, and in such a delicate arena there is much potential to cause offence. The exhibition in question is about peoples of the Pacific, and is in a major European museum of the world's indigenous cultures (BerlinDahlem). I had visited it to see how Australian cultures are represented in image and language and subsequently discussed the representations with students of Australian Studies, translation and text grammar at Potsdam University. The museum texts raise central problems of communication. They are highly academic in style and not at all designed for the genera] visitor with no previous knowledge of the topic. For readers with a great deal of previous knowledge in the area, they raise serious discursive conflicts and involve intercultural issues of racism and misrepresentation.