Collecting Africa: Before, During and After Colonial Overrule


In recent years European and US museums and libraries have been facing mounting calls for the return of objects taken or acquired from Africa and other parts of the world during the Colonial era. The objects, the ways in which they are gathered and presented, and the institutions which house them have become contested, especially when they are tied to histories of violence and dispossession. The contestation is driven by a greater awareness of the relations between institutions and politics, but also by changes in society and the balance of power. These issues have become interwoven with calls for change in the geopolitics of knowledge which have been met with support and opposition, sometimes violent, as in the case of Rhodes University. The increased focus on these issues in the media indicates that these collections have come to embody competing interests and the struggles of individuals within modern societies, and that the debates about them are as much about the present as the past. Museums in the UK have been responding in different ways to these challenges while scholars and governments debate on the institutional actions or activities that should be undertaken to address these contested collections, especially after the Sarr-Savoy report.

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