Margaret McCabe

Margaret McCabe

Margaret McCabe (PhD Candidate)

Repatriation Claims on Cultural Material from Former British Colonies in Museums in Britain and Ireland: Using Experiences to Effect Change

Supervisor: Dr Griffin Murray


In past decades the galleries of British and Irish museums were filled with cultural material with colonial histories. While the era of conquest and looting has passed, museums remain the custodians of cultural material acquired through colonisation. In recent years, as many previously colonised groups begin to reclaim their heritage and find their voices, these institutions are now being called upon to decolonise their collections. Decolonisation through the restitution of cultural material is the most relevant global issue in museums today.

Currently, much of the debate surrounding repatriation focuses on the dichotomous views of claimant groups and museums. Most literature focuses on the repatriation of human remains rather than of cultural material as legislation, such as the United Nations Declaration on The Human Rights of Indigenous People, provides a legal basis for their restitution. The discussion is now moving towards the restitution of cultural material, though the realities of the restitution process are often omitted from the debate.

This research, titled “Repatriation Claims on Cultural Material from Former British Colonies in Museums in Britain and Ireland: Using Experiences to Effect Change,” will seek to analyse the experiences of claimants and museum staff through the use of a survey and interviews. The level of research that will be undertaken in the course of this research has never before been achieved in the academic study of restitution and will provide an advanced understanding of the restitution process that up until now has been assumed or disregarded. The ultimate aim of this research is to create an informed museum practice that can help decolonise collections and practices in museums. Recommendations can be directly applied to museum policy to the benefit of both museums and claimant groups. In achieving this aim two primary questions must be answered: How can museum policy meet claimants’ expectations and needs? And how can museums use this information to decolonise their collections? Ultimately the findings and recommendations of this research project can be applied globally, bringing museums in the Western world in particular, one step closer to decolonisation, and providing resolution for claimants who have suffered due to colonisation.

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