The Institute of Museum Ethics (IME) is a programmatic initiative of the Master of Arts in Museum Professions program at Seton Hall University. The IME promotes accountability, responsibility, and sustainability in museums by convening conversations about critical ethical issues facing museums today, and creating a physical and virtual community of emerging and practicing museum professionals and museum studies faculty who can use our resources to make informed decisions about ethical matters.
The IME maintains that ethical issues underpin all aspects of work in museums — from governance to education, registration to exhibitions, finances to operations and visitor services.
Whether in day-to-day decision-making or forging an overarching mission, museum ethics are about an institution’s relationship with people — individuals and groups in the communities a museum serves as well as its staff and board members.
We define museum ethics through principles related to individual and institutional behavior, such as integrity, accountability, loyalty, honesty, and responsibility. We provide the tools to identify operative ethical principles, and keep abreast of issues in the field as well as larger societal changes in order to anticipate the emergence of circumstances that might have an impact upon ethical practice in museums.
The IME also holds that museums should encourage understanding and promote social justice. As a result, we support the exploration of how institutions can use the past to address present concerns, facilitate dialogue among diverse groups, and empower marginalized communities, locally and globally.
Ethics has been a long-standing concern in the Museum Professions program. Ethics topics appear in many of the MA in Museum Professions courses including History and Theory of Museums, Anatomy of Museums, Legal and Ethical Issues in Museums, Museums and Communities, Museum Registration I and II, Object Care, and Exhibitions A-Z.
In 2007, Janet Marstine founded the Institute of Museum Ethics with the support of a three-year Twenty First Century Museum Professionals Grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, the primary source of federal support for the nation’s libraries and museums. Dr. Marstine led the Institute from 2007 until 2010.
Dr. Sally Yerkovich served as director of the Institute from 2010 until 2018 during which she created a strategic plan for future direction and IME activities to promote social responsibility, accountability, and sustainability in museums. Dr. Yerkovich worked to initiate a national dialogue about ethical issues facing museums through redesigning the IME web page and developing and implementing international conferences.
In 2018, Professor Gregory Stevens assumed the role of director for the IME, continuing the work of his predecessors.
Since its inception, the IME has hosted three international conferences and a number of lectures. It has also generated courses on museum ethics and cultural heritage, initiated dialogues about contemporary ethical issues for museums through its website, listserv, and events.
The IME conferences and related initiatives have resulted in major publications for the field, including:
- A Practical Guide to Museum Ethics, by Sally Yerkovich, Phd., New York: Rowman & Littlefield (2016)
- The Routledge Companion to Museum Ethics: Redefining Ethics for the Twenty-First-Century Museum, Janet Marstine, Editor, New York: Routledge (2011)
- Special Issue of Museum Management and Curatorship: New Directions in Museum Ethics, Vol 26, No. 2, May 2011.