Violence and exploitation were central to European colonialism. The colonial past can therefore be understood as a traumatic event which continues to transmit psychological and emotional harm as historical trauma. As museums are institutions of public culture which play formulative roles in society (Kratz and Karp 2006, 1-2), how they exhibit colonialism mediates how public audiences engage with historical trauma.
I will research how contemporary museum exhibitions mediate colonialism as historical trauma. Using case studies in Britain, the Netherlands and Denmark, I will research how exhibitions represent European colonialism and how they are engaged with to consider whether they perpetuate trauma or act as post-trauma therapy. To do so, I will assess if established theoretical frameworks can characterise European exhibitions of colonialism.
Within museum studies and practice, decolonisation relates to the identification, deconstruction, and eradication of imperial systems within museums (Lonetree 2009). Despite consensus that European museums need to address decolonisation, there is no consensus regarding precisely what this entails and how to achieve this (Heal 2019; Wintle 2017). Many European museums are experimenting with exhibiting colonialism, yet they are guided by this ill-defined discourse of decolonisation. My research will establish whether these exhibitions support or hinder decolonisation in practice. Given the significant amount of experimentation occurring across Europe and the importance of ensuring that decolonisation serves the interests of museum visitors, rather than the museum in isolation from its audiences, this research is a timely contribution to museum studies and practice.
My case studies will span several institutional, museological, and national contexts to identify aspects of overarching practice across Europe as well as differences between specific contexts.