Making museums more inclusive
Museums as institutions have a difficult past that we are currently grappling with. They have either been explicit tools of colonisation, such as in the case of the Benin Bronzes, or they have helped reinforce the practice in more subtle, sometime unintended ways, by only telling a narrow view of history. Museums are the keepers of our national history and identity, so we have a responsibility to share everyone’s history.
Becoming more inclusive
There has been an active effort by many museums to readdress this in recent years to a narrative that is more inclusive, accurate and diverse.
When it comes to exploring our own collection here at the RPS Museum, there are ways that we can carry out decolonisation work. We are currently including more instances of indigenous knowledge when exploring our botanic and materia medica collections. These kinds of stories were marginalised when the only information recorded in our catalogue was about the collector. Where possible we are shifting the focus to explore why a specimen was collected in the first place, who else contributed to its collection, and what indigenous knowledge was used.
We are also taking steps to actively collect objects that highlight a full range of experiences in pharmacy, so that we can accurately reflect the pharmacy profession today for future generations to understand and enjoy.
Much of the work around decolonising museums would not be happening without the contribution of Miranda Lowe, Principal Curator of Crustacea at the Natural History Museum.
In addition to her day job looking after the crustaceans and sea invertebrates at the Natural History Museum, Miranda carried out research in her own time on the hidden histories of natural sciences. She explored historical accounts, highlighting instances where indigenous knowledge was revealed and worked to bring these into the light. Her work on Graman Kwasi, a Surinamese freedman, natural scientist and collector, is an excellent example. She was awarded a CBE this year for her contribution to science.
Miranda also works to encourage people of colour to join the heritage sector. She is a founder member of Museum Detox, a support and activism group. This shows that the work to decolonise museums is not just about the past. It is about ensuring that museums are spaces that are open and relevant to all.
I am grateful to Miranda for her trail blazing work. You can find out more, in her own words, here.
Picture of Miranda Lowe in London 2020 by Miranda Lowe licensed under CC by 4.0.