Introduction to Decolonisation

Lesson Plans: Week 5

Decolonising heritage: history, memory, and material culture

ILOs for the convener and students this week:

  • Explore the role of museums in decolonisation
  • Question whether museums can be decolonised

Lesson Structure

Activity 1: Introduction to and discussion of decolonising museums (allocated time: 10 minutes)

Students should read and discuss Shoenberger’s 2023 article, ‘What does it mean to decolonize a museum?‘ in class.

Mentimeter or Padlet can be used for guided questions, such as:

  • What is the role of museums in decolonisation?
  • How do museums obstruct/advance decolonisation?
  • What are the limitations in decolonising museums?

Activity 2: Writing labels for museum objects (allocated time: 20 minutes)

The convener should pick an object (suggestions below) and have students work in groups of four to write a 120- to 150-word label offering their interpretation of the artefact. The groups will read out their labels to the class; the convener can facilitate feedback and discussion.

Potential artefacts (conveners may want to pick objects that are of special importance to their culture or geographical location):

Activity 3: Discussion of best practice in decolonising museums (allocated time: 20 minutes)

The convener will share examples of initiatives to decolonise museums (see below). Students can discuss, making use of the prompts below.

Museum decolonisation initiatives:

Question prompts:

  • The British Museum adds the following disclaimer to their objects: ‘The British Museum acknowledges contemporary cultural perspectives associated with the objects in its collection. Please note: cultural rights may apply to this object.’ What are the problems with it? Can this be considered ‘best practice’? Why or why not?
  • What can/should museums do? Where do the above examples stand?
  • Do we need museums the way we have them now? Can we imagine a fundamentally different form of ‘museums’?

Supporting information for this lesson can be found here.