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, given ongoing histories of native dispossession, anti-black violence, and white supremacy? These are not new questions, and they have been asked not only within museum settings, but also across the discipline of anthropology and beyond. 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 chart a terrain for the future that emphasizes multi-vocality and multi-modality. We also seek to interrogate the kinds of collaboration that might be possible between European, North American, South African, and other stakeholders. Finally, we seek to imagine the new, decolonial forms of relationship museums might have to their audiences.