Guide Pasts Beyond Memory: Evolution, Museums, Colonialism (Museum Meanings)

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Resources to the following titles can be found at www. What are VitalSource eBooks? For Instructors Request Inspection Copy. Contributing to current debates on relationships between culture and the social, and the the rapidly changing practices of modern museums as they seek to shed the legacies of both evolutionary conceptions and colonial science, this important new work explores how evolutionary museums developed in the USA, UK, and Australia in the late nineteenth century.

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Colonialism and the Object is essential reading for all those interested in post-colonial theory, museum studies, material culture and design history. Association of art historians. Kensington Museum. Exhibition of A mustice silversmith.

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Central Asians in Soviet decorative art. The ordering discourse still depended on the collectors, yet they were not acting in private anymore: the agency of collections reflected the state of beliefs of European scientists as a group, with its array of networks, exchange programs, and interests.

Such beliefs, in turn, were combined with the interests of the State in justifying colonial expansion, through officially showcasing the history of humanity according to a narrative of progress. Darwin's theory, whereby natural evolutionary development led from simple to more complex forms of life, was applied to human matters known as social Darwinism and European colonialism, presented as the "evidence" of progress, was a natural stage of human history.

This discourse was first articulated for the public in the organization of colonial exhibitions. Visitors could marvel in front of the displays that highlighted the power of their nation overseas and absorb the national discourse according to which "inferior" peoples would "progress" accordingly through the gift of Western modernity.

The latter lasted six months and attracted over 30 million visitors, which directly and indirectly allows an idea of the impact on the European population and the success of the government in using culture and leisure to promote industrial and economic interests. Most European nations entered the cultural competition of having an ethnographic collection within the walls of their museums. The presentation of a large section of humanity as "primitive peoples" was absolutely essential to the definition of Western nations at the apex of human history.

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In other words, while the cabinet s of curiosities of the Renaissance were about "controlling and thinking" in relation to the parameters of a discourse that were still yet to be produced, the modern museum was about "showing and educating" people in accordance with a pre-established discourse that would lead the activity of thinking towards predesigned conclusions about the position and status of indigenous peoples as opposed to the "white man" the latter encompassing the bourgeois values that were conservative and therefore sexist in the gendered patterns of its exclusions.

Exhibiting the colonial: museum discourse and the post-colonial realm. After the Second World War, criticism of colonial ideology took various forms and was effected by key happenings of the time period: the political process of independence in Asia and Africa, and the growing demands for social recognition from cultural minorities in North America and in Commonwealth countries such as Canada and Australia Young, ; Hall, This "acceleration" and "democratization" of history reveals the extent to which the "national" framework was dominating due to colonial expansion: once colonization was officially over, the "national" paradigm as a cultural model weakened and could not prevent other narratives, or histories, from entering the space of official discourse.

In this exercise of reconfiguration lies the ability to renew their social purpose, which can no longer be sustained according to the 19th century narrative of progress and human hierarchy. The first challenges, however, did not come from the museums, but from the previous colonies where Indigenous peoples could claim a right to be included in the national narrative. Indigenous leaders challenged museum authorities, calling into question the veracity of the stories within their walls Commonwealth Association of Museums.

For example, in Australia, Aboriginal communities and political leaders have fought since the late s for a more respectful treatment of their ancestors' human remains and their heritage in general Langford, This post-colonial reinterpretation of imperial history that has developed since the s and has ultimately made an impact on curatorial practices is entitled "new museology". The reinterpretation is fully understandable as relative to the history of collecting as a cultural practice throughout different periods of time.

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The "new museology" promotes museum work focused on individual and community cultural development rather than on a nation's greatness Dodd and Sandell, Simultaneously, the "new museology" is, as Australian historian Graeme Davison rightly synthesizes, critical of 'the standard narrative of national history, and especially of its imperialist and racist components', and questions 'the racial and the evolutionary categories and hierarchies which previously governed the collection of museums' objects', and fosters 'the adoption of a pluralist, international perspective' Mcintyre, In this process, the discipline of history has played an increasing role.

More and more museums now attempt historical exhibitions that are organized and presented as catalysts for change by revealing aspects of the large and complex history of European expansion that have previously been ignored. The progressive infiltration of a historical perspective to provide new ways of interpreting ethnographic collections informs us about how our colonial history has shaped our cultural identity and our understanding of the world.

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Such contextualization of previously established collections allows the museum to recover one of its former functions, that is to say, as a fulcrum for debate in which the final discourse is to be decided by the visitor, whose thinking is nurtured by the objects and the different discourses that have been given to them throughout time. In certain countries, the transformation of the museum led to drastic changes. In Australia, for example, it meant that ethnographic collections needed to pass from the field of sciences to the field of humanities Griffiths, The implementation of such huge translations of discourse from the very collections that had been established for colonial purposes presented a serious issue.

One way to deal with such collections was to use them as vehicles in the exhibition of the colonial the settler and his ideas rather than the colonized Allen, As Aboriginal peoples entered the history narrative, museums started to work alongside the indigenous groups in order to present their experience from a more accurate perspective. An additional step was to generate new collections so as to include the previously neglected Aboriginal contemporary history within the museum. Such actions implied that issues of social exclusion and adaptation were addressed constructively alongside the history of contact with the West, the survival of the Aboriginal peoples, and coexistence between Aboriginal peoples and descendants of colonial settlers Allen, ; Miller, In Europe, the cradle of western colonial ideology, changes have been slower and more uneven.

However, it is certain that museums have been forced to renew themselves in order to survive. Such renovations have been visible through the incredible amount of ethnographic collections that have been closed and reopened, redesigned, moved from one museum to the other, and reshaped with an entirely new purpose.

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In Holland, the Tropenmuseum has replaced what began as the Colonial Museum of Haarlem, following the independence of Indonesia in In Belgium, the Royal Africa Museum in Tervuren is also undergoing important restructuring and is experiencing an interesting metamorphosis. The museum has also, however, radically changed its discourse. In fact, its displays are now so outdated that they challenge visitors to consider what the European practice of collecting has meant to colonized peoples.

The Pitt Rivers has been transformed into a museum of what an ethnographic museum used to be, as well as a critique of 19th century museology. Another remarkable initiative was the British Empire and Commonwealth Museum in Bristol, which provided the much needed historical context to understand present day cultural diversity within British society. Unfortunately, it closed its doors in and only plans to reopen, in London, after The only museum of its kind in Europe that presented the year history and legacy of European empires here the British case , the museum had opened in and was privately funded; it had become a much respected institution at national level and an essential aspect of the cultural and social life of the city.

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The case of these two museums demonstrates the interest, as well as the need, of civil society to obtain knowledge about colonial heritage and its present consequences, as well as the inability of Western Nation-states to provide such cultural and historical references to their citizens. Such ongoing transformation signifies that at present, visitors experience a variety of discourses throughout Europe, and even within one museum, as temporary exhibitions depend on different curators and are of unequal quality in terms of the curators capacity to handle colonial heritage.

A simple look at the presentation of current exhibitions reveals the variety within the present span of discourses. The Museum of World Cultures in Sweden, for example, proposes a critical self reflection on how one of its ethnographic collections was constituted, highlighting the impact of such practices:. These textiles were discovered on the Paracas peninsula in Peru at the beginning of the 20th century.

They are about 2, years old and come from looted graves The discourse is visibly distant from the Eurocentric colonial narrative; the very title "a stolen world" and the term "looting" denounce the Western tendency to dispose of other peoples' cultural heritage.

Alternatively, the Royal Africa Museum in Belgium still displays a 19th century narrative for its temporary exhibition Omo:. It is the cultural crucible of a dozen nomad tribes that barely survive in an austere environment. It focuses on the esthetics of ordinary, everyday objects and explains the role played by them in a society constantly obliged to adapt itself to the laws of nature. Some magnificent portraits and pictures of body paintings complete the exhibit. This is all the work of Hans Silvester, who has been working in the Omo valley for several years.

Non-Western peoples are still retained as primitive peoples without technology, let alone intelligence they "barely" survive , and their description is contrasted with the "magnificent" work of the Western photographer. The text implies that the Western society is not dependent on the "laws of nature", a discourse that has long been discredited worldwide and is particularly hard to sustain in the present context of ecological crisis and global warming. The lack of questioning of the 19th century narrative not only allows the survival of a discourse that is culturally obsolete; it also generates fundamental contradictions about the world in which we live, and our subsequent incapacity to relate to the world if it is not clearly within our realm of what we are able to understand.

Modern museums as we know them were composed according to a colonial paradigm. As a result, it is necessary for museums of all sizes to question the structure in which they operate to ensure that they do not retain the colonial model in their working practices, especially when they claim to work with non-Western cultures. The weakening of the national setting has allowed other layers of histories -local, regional, community, indigenous, minority- to be expressed. Such weakening comes to explain the need for a historical context to inform older ethnographic collections, as well as the necessity for the creation of historical collections of non-Western peoples alongside the older historical collections of Western cultures.

The previous use of museum space as a place where discourse and opinion remain to be established provides an enlightening example of how museums can be used once their colonial purposes are eliminated. In my opinion, if museums have been so successful in working with the very communities that they used to exclude, it is because they are rightly perceived as a "3D" version of the art of memory.