Tekla Iashagashvili, a senior sociology and business major from the country of Georgia, knows that museums have the power to shape worldviews. Filled with information, imagery, and artifacts that are curated within strategically placed exhibits, museums present historical narratives, but Iashagashvili questioned how world-renowned museums might choose to tell their influential stories.
Advised by Associate Professor of Sociology Jerome Hodos, Iashagashvili focused on the iconic Musée du Louvre in the heart of Paris, investigating whether world museums can create geographically bound identities through their exhibits.
“Museums are extremely influential in prescribing the ways in which we view and understand the world,” Iashagashvili said. “Especially museums such as the Louvre, which host millions of visitors each year and contain thousands of artifacts from around the world. [They] hold a power to create a sense of power hierarchy between nations or ethnicities.”
Iashagashvili examined the Louvre with four possible approaches to representing the history of the nation and the world: urban-centered, nationalist, global and imperial. Does the museum encourage visitors to see history through the lens of Parisians, or of the French nation? Perhaps, as a source of world knowledge, does it offer a global account of history, or does it bend narratives as an imperial leader?
To find answers, she analyzed the content of more than 400 public texts inscribed on artwork plaques, dictated in audio guides, and highlighted on the museum website. She is researching archived guidebooks from the 19th and 20th centuries, anticipating conclusions based on the representations of history over time.
Iashagashvili began to explore the impacts of world museums through a Marshall Fellowship, awarded to high-achieving sophomores to design and conduct research in their chosen fields. Now in her senior year, she is completing her research as an independent study.
“I have always been interested in museums and loved visiting them, but I first looked at them from a sociological perspective when I started working on my Marshall Fellowship project,” Iashagashvili said. This changed her experience of learning through museums by considering the context that each museum around the world brings into their exhibits.
Through this study, Iashagashvili said she discovered a passion for sociological research, which calls for creativity and diligence to ask questions and design methods for finding answers.
“It has been an incredibly informative and instructive experience,” Iashagashvili said. “I would love to continue this research beyond college.”