MUSEUMS 498-002
Colonialism, Collections and Repatriation
3 Credit Seminar

Traces of European colonization are found in museums around the world, and leave their considerable impact on collections, visitors, and communities. This course provides students with the opportunity to explore the history behind the construction of colonial collections, to learn about issues related to provenance and cultural property, and the politics, ethics and problematics of working with contested collections, objects and artifacts. We start with an exploration of how colonial collections, and entire colonial museums, came into being. What were the practices and ideas of obtaining, collecting and looting objects and artifacts in the colonial context? Then, we divert our gaze to the result of this colonial project of collection and acquisition. Where are these objects now and how are they classified and exhibited in museums today? Finally, we assess initiatives of decolonization, digitization, repatriation, restitution and return. Who are the rightful owners of these objects? What does it mean to decolonize a museum? Is this even possible? What are the practicalities and the legal repercussions of repatriation, restitution and return? This course provides students with the opportunity to engage with these questions by studying influential scholarship, relevant texts and documentaries that offer the most recent interventions in the field. In addition, students will also explore these questions through a number of case studies, conversations with museum curators around the world, and by designing their own proposal for an exhibition.

Course Requirements:

  • Biography of one of the selected objects in the student's exhibition design (30%)
  • Exhibition design (30%)
  • Research paper on the larger theme of which the case study (exhibition topic) is part (30%)
  • Participation (10%)

Images: Exhibition at the Department of Ethnology of the Colonial Institute's museum in Amsterdam, NMVW Collection TM-60052304 (Photographer: C.A. Schouten, ca. 1930)
Protesters in front of Brooklyn Museum, May 2016 (image @kino___eye)