22nd April 2021

Teaching and learning from Experimental Museology: reflections for undisciplined museum practice and theory

Bruno Brulon Soares

The speech proposes that museology and heritage studies curriculum, in a postcolonial perspective, needs to reconsider human experience as a central element for decolonisation. Beyond the outdated desire to be recognised as a “science” in modern terms, museology today faces the challenge of serving to different subjects and social groups in constant friction with the modern project of the museum. In this sense, I will defend that this known discipline, attached to the human sciences, needs to be decentred and undisciplined, by incorporating unsubordinated knowledges and disobedient practices in museums outside of the scope of normative museology. In the margins of the “scientific” field, dominated by the coloniality of knowledge, museums and museology can reinvent themselves throughout new methods for teaching and learning based on experiences that cannot be captured nor apprehended by rational thinking. That way, museums and museology can become less rational and more relational, affected by the pluriversality of knowledges, subjects and experience that may work for their decolonisation.  

Community museums as spaces of decolonised university learning’

Lauran Bonilla-Merchav

Following a constructivist approach, this paper argues that community museums are ideal spaces for university learning that provide students the opportunity to engage directly with issues of decolonization. Community museums are museums of the colonized, in this case, considered such not only as those who have been culturally dominated, but also those who have been generally Othered by society. As such, for the purposes of this paper, I expand the notion of community museums to encompass any museum that represents a specific community (not necessarily connected to a territory) that has been in some way marginalized and that seeks to assert its existence. Generating learning spaces for university students within community museums, in which they actively implement or facilitate the participatory practices fundamental to this kind of museology, may provide opportunities for them to question and critically consider the hierarchical social structures that have favored some and diminished others. By having students do projects in community museums, the learning process becomes active rather than passive, and knowledge is transferred from the professor to the student as practical or theoretical advice that orients the activity. In this way, students are no longer sitting in the classroom, supposedly absorbing knowledge that emanates from the professor, but rather come to the professor for the insight that is needed to confront real life situations, as well as the deepening of ideas through discussion. This presentation will share examples from coursework conducted with University of Costa Rica students at the Sor Maria Romero Museum in San Jose, and will present a project proposal to work with the Ecomuseum of the Mines of Abangares and the Liberia campus of the National University. 

Leave no one, and no museum, behind’

Henry McGhie 

Museum practice will contribute effectively to society when it is attentive to social, environmental and economic challenges of the present and the future. In its original sense, decolonisation focuses on the undoing of colonialism, notably by the self-determination and self-governance of previously colonised and occupied countries. The term decolonisation has come to have a particular meaning in museums, and in other institutions, that is not always congruent with the original sense of the word. That is problematic when it does not connect with, or even impedes, action for decolonisation in the wider world. Inequality is on the increase, both in the Global North and the Global South, and global challenges that are rooted in colonialism challenge all countries, but in unequal ways. This talk will focus on how museums can help address this global inequality by being attentive to and supporting global sustainable development agendas, notably the Sustainable Development Goals, and human rights-based approaches as a basis of public service. Climate change will be discussed as an example of a global agenda deeply connected with colonialism and inequality, in terms of its origins, impacts and the responsibility of Global North countries – and institutions – to act. 

23rd April 2021

‘Teaching a master’s course on museums and Māori: Decolonising and indigenising museum studies in Aotearoa New Zealand’ 

Conal McCarthy and Awhina Tamarapa

This webinar considers complex issues of decolonisation, community action and museum practice as they affect the teaching of museum and heritage studies. We offer a view from Aotearoa NZ, which despite ongoing problems has seen in recent decades the transformation of the museum sector after the ground-breaking exhibition Te Maori, the emergence of indigenous academic pedagogy in universities through kaupapa Māori methodology, and a national reckoning with a difficult past through the Waitangi Tribunal. How has this changing context shaped the teaching of museum and heritage studies in universities?  

We approach the topic from different personal perspectives, Māori and Pakeha, theory and practice, academia and tribal community, but focus on the development of one particular course within a university master’s degree. Over the period 2005-2020 this course has changed often in response to professional trends, student needs, administrative constraints and academic debates on topics such as representation, repatriation, decolonisation and indigenisation. Describing the course content, structure and delivery, the readings, assignments and assessment, we reflect on the shift to Māori agency and strategies toward self- determination and autonomy, working both inside and outside of mainstream museums. While touching on the theoretical literature, we focus on the practical ways in which Māori community values, perspectives and practices have been incorporated into museum practice, and how this in turn has affected the teaching of this course which aims to prepare graduates to work in a dynamic sector where professionals are confronted with tricky dilemmas in collections, exhibitions, policy, management and community engagement.  

In doing so, we ponder how an integrated cycle of teaching, research, professional development and training can in turn challenge and transform museology. A key feature of the course is the ‘wānanga’, a three day, fully immersive workshop for students and professionals staying together on a marae (tribal complex) as guests of the community; learning about their history, cultural knowledge, customs, protocols and way of life today. Recent student research projects include a gap analysis of Māori engagement at a local museum, and working with the Perth Museum, Scotland, on the development of an exhibition based on their taonga Māori collection.

Decolonial pathways’

Rolando Vázquez

Today decoloniality is being discussed in a wide range of academic fields and cultural institutions. While its conceptual resources are being quoted and deployed in many fields, its content, its politics and ethics are often misunderstood or ignored. In this talk, we will build on the 12 Years of the Maria Lugones Decolonial Summer School in the Netherlands and our practices engaging in the transformation of the university, museums and cultural institutions to give concrete examples and explain what does it mean to decolonise. We will explain the basic tenets of decolonial thought that emerged in Abya Yala (the Americas) in order to show the major questions that are implied in a decolonial critical praxis: the what, the who and the how.  We will also elaborate on the ways of doing, the decolonial pedagogies that we have named the pedagogies of positionality (of humbling), the pedagogies of relationality and the pedagogies of re-existence (of transition). Finally, we will present why decoloniality implies overcoming western aesthetics and its master concepts such as the contemporary.

Community museums as intangible cultural heritage practice: decolonizing the Caribbean museology curriculum

Alissandra Cummins

The development of a pedagogy of museology and curatorship for the Anglophone Caribbean only really took shape from the 1990s and has been shaped largely by Western academic norms which was not really inclusive of community/based entities. Recent exposure within coursework designed to increase understanding of the requirements to fulfill UNESCO’s Cultural Conventions has broadened the field to include both tangible and intangible cultural heritage, the latter in particularly has gained in popularity as it has opened opportunities to discuss more popular forms of heritage which are accessible to Caribbean students. However, it is important to recall the difference between ‘product’ and ‘practice’. Much of the work undertaken by students has described the use and decorative functions of the product rather than the cultural meanings and social functions of the practices, knowledge and skills related to the element. While the former aspects are important, there is a need to comprehend the cultural meanings and social functions of the elements and the safeguarding measures which should be focused on them. In this paper, I have decided to consider case studies examining the creation and development of specific types of community/community based museums as a form/act of ICH practice in and of itself, whereby the practitioners are individuals often regarded solely as arts and craft practitioners, who actually pursue quite distinct and complementary goals of caretaking local heritage as part of their day to day activity, thus safeguarding community-based heritage through the accumulation of collections for memory making. Displays of these artifacts are thus not associated with national narratives of history but rather with personal or community stories/memories which emphasize the living and dynamic nature of intangible cultural heritage. Dialogue-based methodologies directly impact communities by giving them tools to share their lived experiences, and empowered to create positive action. In considering the role of these tradition-bearers as actual ICH practitioners of museum-making, opportunities arise which allow for more inclusive, fluid and dynamic associations between practitioners and students directly decolonizing the Caribbean museological curriculum.

Emancipation, Independence, Decolonising and Historicising:  Our Process of “Becoming” in the Caribbean

Heather Cateau

When formal Emancipation came in 1833 no one realised that the process of true emancipation was in a sense really just beginning.  The next major sign post was Independence in the Caribbean which culminated in the 1960s.  Once more, few realised that the process of decolonising and becoming truly independent was only just beginning.   Our major transformative signposts have not brought the promises hoped for to Caribbean people.  We are still very much in the middle of what I call “our process of becoming” in 2021. 

This presentation makes a case for a revised role for historicising in this process. Historicising was a central tool of colonial powers and its impact over centuries cannot be dislodged by periodic official Acts of governments, even if such legislation is intended to be transformative. They dismantle, but they do not automatically reassemble the fragments in a qualitatively different way.  Formal decolonisation has therefore left a colonial infrastructure very much in place. This is reflected in our education systems, our museums and art galleries, our street names, indeed in our very own names.   

The paper will examine the Trinidad and Tobago context which can be regarded as representative of the Caribbean in some ways, but which has its own peculiarities.  It calls for re-examination of the role for statues, monuments and museums, as well as changes in our curricula, as we grapple with the issues related to creating a new development trajectory for the region.  The proposed approach sees this new historicising phase as the next truly transformative stage in “our process of becoming”.  It will bring all our past experiences into proper perspective and will be a critical part of grappling with the issues which have lingered since Emancipation and Independence.  

We cannot change the past, but we can change the way we put the pieces together. I want to suggest that it is now time for a new period of historicising.  The intention is to interrogate these matters, which have often come to the forefront through scenes of contestation, in a manner which opens our consciousness and creates avenues for new kinds of discussion.  This time they must be based on the concerns which everyday people have grappled with in the Caribbean since the nineteenth century.  This will be our path to a new stage in our development.