25 June 2021

CALL FOR PAPERS: Ireland, Museums, Empire, Colonialism: Collections, Archives, Buildings and Landscapes : Deadline 2 July 2021

Ulster Museum and Queen’s University Belfast (or online depending on COVID-19).

8-9 April 2022.

Confirmed keynotes: Professor Hakim Adi (University of Chichester), Professor Corinne Fowler (University of Leicester), Professor Jane Ohlmeyer (Trinity College Dublin), Lynn Scarff (National Museum of Ireland) and Dr Audrey Whitty (National Museum of Ireland and Irish Museums Association).


We have issued a Call for Papers for this inter-disciplinary conference, which will interrogate the complexities of Ireland’s relationship with the British Empire, and of Irish involvement in colonialism. The conference aims to connect academic researchers, museum practitioners, activists and policymakers who are interested in objects, archives, buildings, and landscapes in both public and private spaces and throughout the island of Ireland; and to inform current debates surrounding collections from colonised regions, including Africa, the Americas, the Arctic, Asia and Oceania.  Further details of the conference and its themes can be found at  News | CFP | Centre for Public History | Queen's University Belfast (qub.ac.uk)


Papers on the conference themes but not pertaining to Ireland will be welcome.  It is intended that the conference proceedings will be collected in an edited volume.


The conference is organised by the Centre for Public History and Institute of Irish Studies in Queen’s University Belfast. The partners in the project are National Museums NI, the Irish Museums Association, Northern Ireland Museums Council and the Centre for the Study of Historic Irish Houses and Estates at the University of Maynooth.



If you would like to speak at the conference, please submit an abstract of 250 words with a 400-word CV or academic personal website address, by 17:00 on 2 July 2021. In the event of any queries, please email imec@qub.ac.uk .


Cultures of Care – Reflections from the Museum Ethnographers Group Conference, 6 May 2021 by Dr Nuala Morse

As part of MEG’s online annual conference this year, I had the opportunity to present a conversation with Dr Jennie Morgan (University of Stirling), exploring the idea of ‘cultures of care’ in museums. Our starting point was a previous set of discussion that had brought out work together, and responding to a sense that our need for care, and to care better, had become ever more dramatically apparent as the Covid-19 pandemic runs on.

In my own work, I have been thinking and writing about care in the context of community engagement work in museums, which I present in my recent book, The Museum as Space of Social Care (2020). Within the book, I consider care in the very intimate settings of engagement sessions with vulnerable or marginalised groups, notably in the context of health and wellbeing programming, to a wider reflection on the social role of museums in an increasingly careless world. 

Talking of care in the museum is, in a sense, entirely ordinary since care for collections is central to museum work. The idea that the museum should also care for its communities is well-established in rhetoric, though perhaps the practice is more patchy. Certainly, members and associates of MEG have been demonstrating care in practice through their work with communities, both diasporas and distant constituents. And yet, wider discussion of care for people are currently absent from museum discourse.

The book explores ‘care thinking’ through a number of directions.

First, care as practice and capacity: here I draw out the myriad of mundane acts that that take place within community engagement session, which are remarkable as acts of everyday care – making people feel safe, included, valued, respected, and listened to. This work is all too often overlooked in terms of its time, its skills and its qualities. Caring work takes time, effort – a proactive willingness to care for others and an awareness of the dynamics of caring relations, their ambivalences and their contradictions. This is not to say that caring cannot be learnt; but it does requires working at.

The second approach is through looking at its logics. The notion of ‘logics’ draws our attention away from codes and procedures, to consider what is appropriate or logical to do in a certain situation. The logic of care is therefore about distilling what makes ‘good’ care, with clear attention to its specificity Defining care is not a fixed thing, but rather something that happens in and through practice.

Key point here is that care is relational – in order to become good care, it has to be recognised and received as care. As such, care is a shared accomplishment. We might say that care needs to be co-produced (to use a familiar museum term). This is important, as it is very possible to care badly. Indeed, care is often criticised as being patronising, and it can be used to exploit, control and abuse. Good care happens only when it is shared.

Another direction I explore in the book is the ‘museumness of care’, drawing on previous work with Ealasaid Munro. This is the idea that the museum can provide its own version of care; that it has innate capacities to care that could be activated using museum objects and spaces, and culture more widely.

The final direction is to explore an ethics of care, as the basis for a new direction for museums practice and theory (towards a ‘care-ful museology’, if you will). The ethics of care presupposes that we all need care. Drawing on feminist work, care is here defined as a broader philosophy,

‘a species of activities that includes everything we do to maintain, continue, and repair our world so that we can live in it as well as possible. That world includes our bodies, our selves, and our environment, all of which we seek to interweave in a complex, self-sustaining web’ (Fisher and Tronto, 1993)

Applied to the museum, care ethics is about repositioning the museum as active within networks of mutual support, and within wider landscapes of care organisations, both formal and informal. This defines what I call the museum as a space of social care.

In essence, the idea of a museum for/in the community is not new (and this is a good thing!). But I suggest that through care thinking, we can provide different coordinates for activating this community role.

My work to date has focused on thinking through care in the museum from as emerging from community engagement settings primarily with social history collections, and primarily local communities, often marginalised and excluded groups accessing a range of social services and formal care organisations. Bringing this discussion to MEG colleagues, was an opportunity to explore how care thinking might already feature in their own work with ethnographic collections, and their own practices of community engagement.

As part of the MEG discussion and drawing on her work ass part of the AHRC HeritageFutures project, Jennie described how care is often expressed through collecting and preservation practices intended to navigate the challenge of curating profusion. We then opened up to the floor, and we had a wide-ranging discussion about care. (note: these are here reported in my own words, any misreporting or misunderstandings are therefore entirely my own)

1) How can care be expanded across the organisation?  What about care for staff at this time?

2) Is care/the idea of the museum as a space of social care another form of instrumentalisation of culture, this time to plug the gaps left behind by cuts to health and social care services?

3) How do we prioritise care, and does caring for some come at the expenses of caring for others?

4) What can we learn from Indigenous forms of ‘caring with’? (short answer here is surely lots)

I am grateful for colleague’s engagement in the session, which has given me much to think through, in considering the potential of care as a way of articulating the future work of museums. Of course we only scratched the surface – to my mind care opens up real possibilities for different approaches to outlining the museum’s responsibility (and obligation?) to care, but also some challenges, to ensure that care work doesn’t become parochial, patronising, or worse. We need to understand cultures of care as shared accomplishment in the future of the museum.

I welcome any further thoughts and discussion, and thank delegates again for their engagement – you can reach me at nuala.morse@leicester.ac.uk

If you are interested in hearing more about the book, please do join me in conversation on July 1st, 12 pm BST for a virtual book launch Book through eventbrite.