Making African Connections: Decolonial Futures for Colonial Collections. Initial Findings and Recommendations



Making African Connections: Decolonial Futures for Colonial Collections. Initial Findings and Recommendations


To read or download the report: see 'Other Media' below, click on 'Making African Connections v4.pdf', then click on the report front page.
This report provides a summary of key findings and draws together briefings by all those involved in the project, taking the form of short reflexive texts. These provide insight into both the project’s achievements and the challenges we encountered. We hope to strike a balance between critical self-reflection and documenting positive changes.
Findings are directed at the UK museum sector, but we hope they are useful more widely to those working with African colonial-era collections. Some of our conclusions on working with colonial-era collections are distinctive because of the focus on small museums and framing in terms of ‘decolonizing’. Others echo prior work, such as Revisiting Museum Collections (published initially in 2006, and now in its third edition), which provided a ‘toolkit’ to curators to open museums up ‘for reinterpretation and knowledge capture by community groups and external experts to build and share a new understanding of the multi-layered meaning and significance of objects and records’.1 This initiative was politically and intellectually important: it was developed by the Museums, Libraries, Archives (MLA) London and Collections Trust (then Museums Documentation Association) but support was cut under the Coalition Government. Funding for such work is essential: small museums simply do not have the resources and capacity to undertake it. Documenting and reinterpreting collections should not, however, be ends in themselves: they need to be part of a process of more fundamental change, including returns. Otherwise ‘capturing knowledge’ risks becoming yet another process of extraction from marginalised and descendant communities.2 The findings and reflections here raise ethical, political and institutional questions that stem from museums’ persistent ownership of contested collections that community outreach and improved documentation do not in themselves address directly. Museums wanting to respond to the challenge of ‘decolonizing’ are grappling with these issues without adequate national guidance.3 The need for such guidance is urgent, as the year 2020 showed so clearly.

1 ‘Revisiting Museum Collections’ [accessed 7 December 2020].

2 We use this term to forefront the passage of time, following Jeremy Sylvester and Napandulwe Shiweda (2000), ‘The Return of the Sacred Stones of the Ovambo: Restitution and the Revision of the Past’, Museums and Society 18(1),

3 For reflections on using decolonial theory in museum practice, see Rachel Minot (2019), ‘The Past is Now: Confronting Museums’ Complicity in Imperial Celebration’, Third Text, 33: 4-5: 559-574; John Giblin, Imma Ramos & Nikki Grout (2019) Dismantling the Master’s House, Third Text, 33:4-5, 471-486.


Making African Connections




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