MA Art Gallery and Museum Studies / Course details

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
Decolonise the Museum!

Course unit fact file
Unit code SALC60242
Credit rating 15
Unit level FHEQ level 7 – master's degree or fourth year of an integrated master's degree
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
Available as a free choice unit? No


In May 2020, following the killing of George Floyd during a police arrest in Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA, #BlackLivesMatter demanded acknowledgment and accountability for the devaluation and dehumanization of Black life at the hands of the police. As a global network of protests grew, other institutions also modelled on White, male and heteronormative principles where called on to recognise the inherent bias and institutional racism within their systems. This call included museums. Many issued statements that acknowledged their ties to colonialism and slavery with the admission that they needed to do better; they needed to become anti-racist in their practice and to decolonize the museum. But what does that actually mean? Over the course of this module we will consider what decolonization and anti-racism looks like in the museum. We will encounter the contemporary issues facing museums and ask if it is in fact ever possible to decolonize the museum? Through lectures, seminars, discussions with museum professionals and fieldwork this course will equip you with a range of critical, theoretical and practical approaches related to the subject. It will specifically focus on how this approach can challenge accepted practices for collecting, interpreting, researching and exhibiting anthropology and colonial-era museum collections that in many cases were taken under duress. We will question the origins of these harmful and contested collections before turning to consider their present-day potential. The core question for this module is how can such objects influence societal, cultural and political change by raising questions over global inequalities, colonial amnesia and the (mis)representation of silenced histories. 

All fieldword is subject to government guidelines.


  • The course is designed to:

    1. Develop a critical understanding of the theory and practice that underpins acts of museum decolonization.
    2. Offer an overview of the skills, requirements and challenges needed when developing decolonizing research agendas and practices in museums.
    3. Provide a thorough knowledge of the intellectual and ethical issues involved in the decolonization of museums.
    4. Provide practical knowledge and experience of decolonizing practices in museums and galleries.

Teaching and learning methods

Weekly one-hour lectures and two-hour seminars with directed learning and presentations to be prepared from week to week, including presentations by guest lectures and site visits. Students will be directed to conduct fieldwork in preparation for the class in specific weeks. Teaching and Learning Methods include:

Lectures and seminars

Individual and group fieldwork

Reading, discussion

Discussion with museum professionals

Individual research

Practical workshops

Developing a collaborative on-line resource

The course will have a Blackboard site with all elements of the minimum specification including: 
1. Aims, Objectives, Timetable and Mode of Assessment 
2. Course Materials 
3. Reading lists 
4. Guidance on assessment

Knowledge and understanding

On successful completion of this course you should be able to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of:

  • The institutional and professional contexts within which museum decolonization develops.
  • The role of the museum (historically and in the present) in producing colonial/imperial, biased and racist ideologies through practices of collecting, display and interpretation.
  • The specific issues of appropriation and representation arising from Western/Imperial curation of Indigenous material culture in both colonial/imperial and post-colonial/imperial contexts.
  • The theory and practice of museum decolonization.
  • How to apply an understanding of decolonial thinking and post-colonial studies to museum theory and practice.


Intellectual skills

  • Undertake self-directed learning and skills acquisition
  • Conduct independent, critical fieldwork
  • Develop appropriate methodological and analytical skills
  • Apply skills and ideas learned in one institutional context to another, while remaining aware of the complexity of the issues

Practical skills

  • Initiate practical and creative solutions to specific criteria.
  • Communicate complex research findings through clear written and verbal articulation, supported by appropriate technological tools.

Transferable skills and personal qualities

  • Retrieve, select and critically evaluate information from a variety of sources, including museums, libraries, archives, and the internet.
  • Communicate information and ideas effectively in a professional, as well as an academic, environment.
  • Engage in debates on contested and difficult subject matter with sensitivity and awareness.
  • Critically evaluate personal performance through monitoring and analytical reflection.
  • Demonstrate independent learning ability suitable for continuing study and professional development.


Employability skills

- Communicate the value and applicability of museum ethnography decolonization innto organisational practice. - Articulate clearly the key challenges related to ethnography collections in museumsmuseum decolonization in the museum sector. - Get anti-racist collections and archival skills required in museum ethnography professional practice - Work collaboratively to create a decolonization research resources - Manage time efficiently - Generate ideas and think laterally - Group working- Map career directions and trajectories - Listening and discussion skills

Assessment methods

Assessment taskFormative or SummativeLengthWeighting within unit (if relevant)
Individual Presentation/PodcastSummative15 minutes (1500 word equivalent)30%
Reflective EssaySummative1500 words70%


Feedback methods

Feedback method

Formative or Summative

Essay Proposal surgery and written comments


Academic advisor meeting





Recommended reading

Key Readings for the Course  

Decolonising Museums

Abungu, G. O. (2019). Museums: Geopolitics, Decolonisation, Globalisation and Migration. Museum International, 71(1-2), 62-71.

Bunning, K. (2020) Negotiating Race and Rights in the Museum. Routledge.

Bodenstein, Felicity and Camilla Pagani (2014) ‘Decolonising National Museums of Ethnography in Europe: Exposing and Reshaping Colonial Heritage (2000-2012)’ in Iain Chambers et al (eds.) The Postcolonial Museum: The Arts of Memory and the Pressures of History (London: Routledge), pp. 39-50.

Brulon Soares, B., & Leshchenko, A. (2018). ‘Museology in Colonial Contexts: A Сall for Decolonisation of Museum Theory’. ICOFOM Study Series, (46), 61-79.

Crow, J. (2011). ‘The Mapuche Museum of Cañete (1968–2010): Decolonising the Gaze’. Journal of Latin American Cultural Studies, 20(2), 161-178.

de Varine, H. (2005). ‘Ethics and heritage: decolonising museology’. ICOM news, 58(3), 3-3.

Emberley, J. (2006). (un)Housing Aboriginal Possessions in the Virtual Museum: Cultural Practices and Decolonization in civilization. ca and Reservation X. Journal of Visual Culture, 5(3), 387-410.

Giblin, J., Ramos, I., & Grout, N. (2019). Dismantling the Master’s House: Thoughts on Representing Empire and Decolonising Museums and Public Spaces in Practice An Introduction. Third Text, (4-5), 33.

Kidd, J., Cairns, S., Drago, A., & Ryall, A. (2016). Challenging history in the museum: International perspectives. Routledge.

Kreps, C. (2015). Appropriate museology and the “new museum ethics”. Honoring diversity. Nordisk Museologi, (2), 4.

Johnson, K. (2016). ‘Decolonising museum pedagogies’. In Adult Education, Museums and Art Galleries (pp. 129-140). Sense Publishers, Rotterdam.

Lonetree, Amy. (2012) Decolonizing Museums: Representing Native America in National and Tribal Museums. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.

Lorde, A. (2003). The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. Feminist postcolonial theory: A reader, 25, 27.

Message, Kylie (2018) Museums and Racism. London: Routledge.

Onciul, B. (2015). Museums, heritage and indigenous voice: Decolonizing engagement. Routledge.

Smith, C. (2005). Decolonising the Museum: the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, DC. Antiquity, 79(304), 424-439.


Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Lectures 7
Seminars 15
Independent study hours
Independent study 128

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Emma Martin Unit coordinator

Return to course details