IW06
Museums, anthropology and the representation of the colonial past

Convenors:
Gareth Griffiths (British Empire and Commonwealth Museum)
Boris Wastiau (Musée d'Ethnographie de Genève)
Chair:
Boris Wastiau and Gareth Griffiths
Location:
Queens Pugsley LT
Start time:
20 September, 2006 at 11:30
Session slots:
3

Short abstract:

What importance do ethnographic museums and anthropologists give to the representation of the colonial past? Assessing current research and exhibition practice, papers will address the various ways in which European museums and anthropologists practically tackle or avoid addressing the issue.

Long abstract:

Ethnographic museums, curators, historians and museum anthropologists often find themselves at odds in their attempts to represent the colonial past. About half a century after the independence of most European colonies, very few museums account for the period in their exhibitions. Most sensitive issues, like the various aspects of colonial violence, are carefully kept at bay. The role of colonial anthropology and collecting practices in the period are also ignored. Pressed to increase visitor figures and improve public image, museums tend to gloss over this era in spite of ever-critical research being produced independently. The workshop will attempt to assess museum anthropology in this context, but also to look at the contribution of ethnographic museums to the development of European identities through the making and diffusion of images of, and concepts about, non-European cultures and societies. To what extent is post-colonial image-making any different and who controls it? We will also look at the various collecting practices from the earliest colonial period. Even the most critical perspectives on colonial museum practice were most often confined within the realm of one nation or empire, as unified and unique. The way colonial issues have been approached in recent exhibitions and in the media also tend to be limited to the historical bond between former coloniser and former colonised. Comparative perspectives are rare, even though collectors and museum curators since the late 19th century have often been involved in international networks and collaborations. The role of institutions and individuals will be contrasted and the role of individuals within or independent from institution will also be compared. We would particularly welcome papers addressing the various ways in which European museums have practically addressed or avoided addressing the colonial past in the last few years or how they anticipate addressing it in the years to come.