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The New Museum Paradigm: Shifting Representations of Empire

  • University of Sussex (map)

Sussex University and Brighton Museum, 16-17 September 2019

A new postgraduate conference exploring complex and provocative research across a number of inter-related questions pertaining to representations of empire in museums and art galleries.

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 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. 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.

It is with great enthusiasm that this symposium aims to explore these shifts across museums and art galleries more broadly. Our first symposium will focus on the current state of affairs in the UK. We recognise that starting with the UK may seem Anglo-centric. This is not our intention, and we will broaden our geographical scope to include Europe, North American, and the Global South as our network develops.

The conference will be spread over two days and include the following sessions:

Day 1




Panel: Slavery and Museums




Panel: Curatorial Reflections


Workshop with Alice Proctor (Uncomfortable art tours)




Keynote by Dr Corinne Fowler (Colonial Countryside project)

Day 2




Panel: Working with Indigenous Communities




Panel: Ethnographic Museums


Travel to Brighton Museum


Brighton Museum: BME Heritage Network presentations and response from Helen Mears Keeper of World Art for Royal Pavilion & Museum

To register for a place, please click on the button below.

For any CHASE funded students travelling from outside of Brighton we can provide overnight accommodation. Please indicate whether you require this one registering through the link above.