Slavery, Colonialism and Museums Representations in Great Britain: Old and New Circuits of Migration

One of the consequences of British colonialism across the world was the appropriation of cultural artefacts, sacred and precious objects; and one of the legacies is their display in British museums. For more than one hundred years the museums of Great Britain have functioned to bolster national (white) pride and glorify British culture by showcasing a wide array of artefacts plundered and looted during European slavery and colonialism. One of the most significant legacies of British colonialism is the migration of minorities to the metropolis, their permanent settlement there and the growth of local-born populations. These groups have mobilized successful challenges to the hegemonic representations of British glory prevalent in museums. At present, dramatic and irreversible transformations in the representations and discourses of colonialism are under way in long-established museums across the nation. And new exhibits, galleries and museums projecting markedly different representations and discourses, and questioning the very foundation of museum principles, knowledge and functions have also emerged in recent decades. None of these developments are conceivable, or their dynamics understandable, outside the framework of international migration and settlement. And at the same time, new circuits of international migration, fuelled by inequalities of wealth and the ravages of war, all in the maelstrom of globalization, have led to the recent arrival of new migrants-and permanent settlers-new artefacts, new debates, and the potential for new transformations.

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