31 October 2017

Decolonising the Museum in Practice: Remaining Relevant in the Contemporary World

Call for Papers 

Annual Museum Ethnographers Group Conference 

Pitt Rivers MuseumAshmolean Museum and St Hilda’s College, University of Oxford

12 – 13 April 2018

How do Ethnographic/World museums ensure that what they bring to society matters? Are our practices changing to ensure that what we programme, teach, collect and display is meaningful? What brings contemporary audiences to our museums and do we enable them to find inspiration, enchantment and knowledge that is of direct relevance to them? We are all grappling with the complexities of our institutional histories of collecting and representation but what does it actually mean to decolonise museum spaces and practices? We hope to address some of the following questions:

  • Can ethnographic collections be used to help in reckoning with the echoes of colonialism that still resonate in the contemporary world?
  • How do we as museum practitioners empower indigenous communities to shape a decolonised future through the interpretation of a colonised past?
  • How do Commonwealth countries fit into the discourse of decolonisation?
  • How do we resist and avoid the reproduction of colonial taxonomies in displaying ethnographic material?
  • How could such collections be interpreted in facing societal challenges such as mass human displacement, questions of identity and belonging, well-being and in addressing the wider global societal divide?
  • What alternatives has the 20th and 21st century museum landscape brought us?
  • Where do museums established during independence, and in former occupied       territories stand today?
  • Do such museums need physical collections and spaces? What do digital museums offer? 
  • Can ethnographic museums move beyond their tendency to represent cultural ‘others’ and their conventional focus on (often colonial) ‘non-Western’ geographies?
  • What would that mean for collecting in the contemporary?
  • In what way do institutional frameworks enable/limit experimentation and  innovation?

We would like to invite case studies of contemporary practice or past museum practise, including an open review of the challenges and opportunities experienced.  We warmly invite proposals for papers discussing work aimed at making museums more inclusive spaces. We hope to see both best and worst practice cases openly brought to the fore and anticipate that the meeting will give ample opportunity for people to engage, reflect and be inspired by current examples that are challenging the status quo in Ethnographic/World Museums. We especially encourage and welcome papers offered by colleagues from post-colonial studies, migration studies, new technologies, archaeology, history and cultural studies. 

Two standard formats are available for presenters: a full conference paper to last twenty minutes and a shorter ten-minute work in progress presentation. We also welcome A2 posters to be displayed throughout the conference. Please send 200 word abstracts by email to Faye Belsey no later than Monday 22nd JanuaryFull details on registration, accommodation and the conference programme will be released in February 2018. The Museum Ethnographers Group is a charity and is unable offer any financial support to speakers. All papers must be presented in English. Conference papers will be considered for inclusion in the Journal of Museum Ethnography. 


  1. Someone for sure should critique the American Indian museum in D.C. as I did when it first opened. It is white-washed in ways that would cause some serious consternation globally if a museum about contemporary Jews omitted the Holocaust.

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