The role of museum archives in debates on decolonisation: a case study of the archives of the Royal Museums of Art and History

Anke Hellebuyck

Master Erfgoedstudies
2021 — 2021

onderzoek

promotor
Gerrit Verhoeven

The role of museum archives in debates on decolonisation: a case study of the archives of the Royal Museums of Art and History

 

Decolonisation is a major topic of debate in society and in the heritage sector. The focus of scholarship on decolonisation and heritage has mainly been on museums and national archives, but little attention has been paid to another type of archive with possible colonial connections, the museum archive. Therefore, this master paper unravels the key role that museum archives can play as a catalyst for decolonisation in the heritage sector. 

Scholarship on decolonisation in the heritage sector has largely disregarded museum archives despite their possible colonial connections. This master paper addresses this gap in scholarship and investigates the role museum archives can play in debates on decolonisation, both in scholarship and in practice. The chosen method for this study is a combination of literature review with a consideration of a Belgian museum archive as case study, the archive of the Royal Museums of Art and History (RMAH).

This master paper demonstrates that decolonising interventions in museum archives with colonial connections are urgently needed and require a shift in attitude of the museum archivists. Moreover, the paper shows that museum archives have huge potential to bring together scholarship on decolonisation from archival and museum studies and to function as a catalyst for breaking the so-called “silos of the LAMs” in practice. Based on these new insights, a first-of-its-kind three-tiered system of recommendations for the decolonisation of museum archives is proposed.

Furthermore, by creating a research guide on the colonial traces in the RMAH archive, this paper also points to the usefulness of small-scale decolonising interventions to initiate the decolonisation process. As such, this pioneering study systematically unravels the role of museum archives in decolonisation debates in the heritage sector and calls for continued attention to the decolonisation of museum archives in scholarship and in practice in the future. 

Contact

Anke Hellebuyck
anke.hellebuyck@gmail.com 

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