Current Research on African Restitution

Throughout 2020-2023, Prof Dan Hicks will be leading the Museum's involvement in three complementary, experimental and action-oriented research programmes each focused on supporting efforts to return African cultural heritage currently held in European museums and collections to the continent of Africa, on a case-by-case basis. The work involves collaborations with colleagues in Accra, Cairo, Cape Town, Berlin, and at university and local authority museums across the UK.

Bronze Plaque looted from Royal Palace of Benin [1907.66.1]

A Bronze Plaque looted from the Royal Palace of Benin, purchased by the Pitt Rivers Museum for five pounds in 1907 (accession number 1907.66.1)


The Museum's African Restitution work currently comprises three complementary strands of research:


1. The Restitution of Knowledge: artefacts as archives in the colonial museum, 1850- 1939

Alongside Professor Bénédicte Savoy (Technische University), Prof Hicks is PI for the £725,000 programme funded by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, the Arts and Humanities Research Council, and the Oxford-Berlin Research Partnership. Post-doctoral researchers Dr Yann LeGall (in Berlin) and Dr Mary-Ann Middelkoop (in Oxford) are working on this project, which aims to build and share knowledge of incidents of looting during military expeditions, and to document connections between these events and objects in European museums to inform and support restitution. 

Read more about this project here.

2. Action for Restitution to Africa. 

Prof Hicks is also one of four PIs for this £630,000 project funded by Open Society Foundations. With partners including Dr Monica Hanna (Arab Academy for Science, Technology, and Maritime Transport, Egypt) and Professor Ciraj Rassool (University of the Western Cape, South Africa), this new experimental collaboration is using new provenance research, academic publication, social media, public events, broadcast media and network-building to increase awareness, catalyse debate, transform the framing of global dialogues and actions around African restitution. The programme seeks to support efforts by African-based state and non-state actors in securing permanent unconditional returns to the continent of Africa, on a case by case basis.

3. Devolving Restitution: African Collections in UK Museums Beyond London

In the UK — funded by a series of smaller grants from Open Society Foundations, Oxford University and Art Fund — in 2021-2022 Prof Hicks is leading a new programme of research and public events. This project commissions scoping, provenance research, and writing that builds understanding and starts to unlock the immense scale, range and diversity of African collections in British non-national museums outside London (i.e. local authority museums, university museums, and other smaller museums not subject to the National Heritage Act). The programme brings together museums and grassroots diasporic, community and activist groups across the UK for six themed events, each addressing a different theme in African collections histories and opening up new dialogues with African claimants. This work aims not only to move forward the traditionally London-centric nature of debates about decolonisation and restitution in UK museums, but also actively to support and amplify the claims of African-based organisations and communities for the return of African heritage. The six project themes are: Military Looting, Archaeological Expeditions, Objects of Sovereignty, Objects of Belief, Human Remains, and Scientific Collecting (including natural history and ethnographic collecting).

For more information about any of these programmes, please contact Professor Dan Hicks