Settler Colonialism, Slavery, and the Problem of Decolonizing Museums: A hybrid international conference co-presented by the Center for Experimental Ethnography and the Penn Museum
Over the past several decades scholars and practitioners have critically reconsidered the role of ethnographic museums in the development and representation of knowledge about people and processes throughout the world. Persistent questions have emerged again and again: What are the relationships between colonialism and collection? What issues of accountability surround contemporary knowledge production and representation? How do we think through the challenges of repatriation? And what might repair look like? These are not new questions, and they have been asked not only within museum settings, but also across the discipline of anthropology as a whole for the past thirty years. Yet as museums attempt to reevaluate their practices of collecting, exhibiting, and repatriating, we must still confront – and determine a new relationship to – the legacies of Enlightenment-based scientific humanism and its imperial underpinnings.
This conference builds on some of the issues being raised within European and South African contexts, while also thinking through the particularities of the view from the United States. Drawing from the insights and experiences of scholars, museum practitioners, and educators, we seek to join the conversations related to settler colonialism to those related to slavery and imperialism. We also seek to chart a terrain that emphasizes multi-vocality and multi-modality, and that imagines the kinds of collaboration that might be possible between European, North American, South African, and other stakeholders. Finally, we want to elaborate new forms of relationship museums might have to their audiences.
The conference will open on Wednesday, 20 October and will run through Saturday. On Wednesday, we will start with synchronous virtual welcomes from Christopher Woods (Director, Penn Museum) and Deborah Thomas (Director, Center for Experimental Ethnography). These will be followed by our keynote speaker, Laura Van Broekhoven (Director, Pitt Rivers Museum). Panelist presentations will be pre-recorded (15-20 minutes) and posted to our website, and each of the remaining days we will convene for a synchronous moderated discussion and Q&A (at noon, EST). Each evening, we will also offer live events specific to the Penn and Philadelphia museum community, and these will also be streamed. The conference schedule is here.