CfP: The New Museum Paradigm: Shifting Representations of Empire at Museums and Art Galleries in the UK

Abstract Deadline: 21st June 2019

Provisional Date of Symposium: September 20-21st 2019

Location: University of Sussex

Please E-mail abstracts to 

Abstracts should be no longer than 300 words. Please include a short bio of no more than 150 words, along with your university affiliation.

It is widely held that the chronological development of ‘universal’ museums and their collections imitate the contours of imperial history. In recent years, this claim has led many museums in Europe and across the world to reconfigure their focus, appearing as places more inclusive of cultural diversity, in an open desire to move away from their colonial roots.
In Britain, the beginnings of this phenomenon can be traced back to the late 1980s, when, fuelled by the discourse of multiculturalism, museums began to re-engage with histories and legacies of Empire, not least because communities that had come to Britain as citizens of Empire in large numbers in the late-1940s and 1950s, and their descendants, began to make demands for better representation both politically and culturally. More recently, the commemoration of the bi-centenary of the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade in 2007, which occurred in a milieu of memory and museum booms, marked a turning point in how museums use memory to engage and negotiate the imperial past.

In this context, collections and their interpretative methodologies are being redefined, leading to re-readings of historical narratives and to the normalisation of curatorial settings appealing to emotions, which sometimes make use of artistic methodologies. Exhibition projects thereby become sites of formation of utopian narratives in which knowledge of the past can be used to shape better presents and futures. In this, museums have become increasingly reliant on external sources – such as artists or communities – to provide the critical work necessary to redefine narratives, interpretations and methodologies. This introduction of multiple perspectives through a collaborative process leads to museums incorporating memory and personal testimony to interpret the history and legacies of the empire from a subjective perspective. While the application of these new strategies have had mixed success, this represents an important epistemic shift away from the primacy of the curatorial voice and the object in creating visual, textual and aural representations of colonial history towards the opening up of the museological process which can be seen as part of decolonsing the museum and the art gallery.

We welcome papers concerned with this new museum paradigm as it relates to representations of empire, colonialism, and slavery; principally, when, how, and why have these shifts taken places across museums and art galleries in the UK? Additionally we are interested in themes on the politics of display and repatriation, museums and migration in a postcolonial age, innovative museum practices towards decolonial futures, museums and public ‘postcolonial’ discourse, Visitors and the postcolonial museum, exhibition and collection histories, museums, art and politics, the role of art in memory-oriented exhibitions, decolonizing collections, city/local museums and representations of Empire & colonialism and more.

For more information and details please see:

Having a Hobby and Doing a PhD

by Matthew Jones, University of Sussex, CHASE Student Committee blog officer and Sussex representative  

A PhD can be an all-consuming thing. Indeed, relaxing while doing a PhD might be harder than doing the PhD itself. Often there is a nagging feeling in the pit of your stomach that you probably should be reading that article about post-colonialism and the materiality of museum collections or writing that thing you promised to write for someone offhandedly in the faculty staffroom. The burden this can have on your mental and physical health can become great, however, this blog is not about doom and gloom. You can take time away from your PhD and build a healthy work/life balance in the process. Of course, there is not a one size fits all solution to this, but I have found that giving time to develop a hobby can be really great way to empty your mind of the anxieties of academia.

I do this by drawing. I have always been drawing since I was a kid conjuring up images of dragons and castles in school exercise books. I remember discovering out how perspective worked when I was in year 3 and becoming the talk of the playground as everyone wanted me to make their pictures look more realistic. This continued all the way through secondary and I took an A-Level in art at sixth form. I even thought about going to art school after my A-Levels but then I realised the life of a starving artist is not for me (so I did history because that makes you way more money).

My art developed through my undergraduate degree to where I focused on making portraits including in my final year where I made portraits of all my housemates and, rather narcissistically, we hung them in our kitchen, so we could stare out ourselves during predrinks. Unsurprisingly my passion for drawing did not abate when I moved to doing an MA in Art History. Now that I am doing a PhD I have come to see that as I have moved up the academic ladder I have become more and more passionate about my drawing. Maybe I use drawing as a way to hide from all my worries or as a genuine safe place where I can be myself, either way, it has become a daily thing that I do to take my mind off the ‘To Do List’ of PhD life that’s always lingering in my head.

Being at University has enabled me to do this. The Art Society at Sussex run a weekly life drawing session and Brighton is full of different galleries and art clubs running sessions on drawing as well as many other fun creative things. Taking a couple hours off on a Wednesday afternoon to go to a life drawing class is not going to harm your PhD. This applies to doing any hobby. Taking time to be yourself, indulge in what you like doing and to grow your sense of self is an actively good thing no matter what your hobby is.

Not to go all Gwyneth Paltrow but consciously uncoupling yourself from your research is not an act of academic self-sabotage. Many people feel like they must spend every waking moment doing activities related to their area of expertise but doing a hobby can actually make you better at working than hitting your head against wall all day because you are tired, and your morale is low. I feel like drawing has made me a better academic. It has taught me patience and the need to look more closely, and multiple times, at what I am drawing. It has taught me that making mistakes is ok as they can be erased and that if you keep working at it something beautiful can come of it.

Basically, as well as being a vehicle for self-promotion and showing off my drawings, I hope this blog has underlined the use and pleasure that can be gained from taking time off your PhD to do something else. It can be scary to do something that doesn’t seemingly contribute to your research, but it can be deeply rewarding, help you grow and can be just very relaxing!