Museums and Decolonisation: Stories from the Pitt Rivers Museum

Monday 11 October - Friday 5 November 


4 lectures plus 1 live interactive session £60

BOOKING CLOSED (Please note that the closing date for registering is midnight on Thursday 7 October.)

How can ethnographic and world cultures museums use their collections and galleries as spaces which create active discussion around issues facing society today?

The Pitt Rivers Museum is known for being a visually stunning Victorian space which houses an awe-inspiring number and variety of objects. We carry out a wide range of research, education and outreach activities, engaging with communities locally and globally. Although many people think the Museum has never been updated, it has been a place of constant change and innovation since it was founded in 1884. Today, its dense multi-layered displays function as a 'democracy of things', revealing fascinating distinctions and parallels across cultures. We work towards actively mobilising the Museum as a unique space for conversations on contemporary issues, such as colonial history, identity, migration and climate change. We ask ourselves how can museums bring a wider range of stories and communities into our spaces in a way that is inclusive and encourages reflection, which is both compelling and challenging in equal measure? This series of lectures explores how Pitt Rivers staff are developing new approaches to these questions from a range of different perspectives - from the labels we write to the stories we tell about the objects in our care.

How this lecture series will work

A new recorded lecture will be released weekly each Monday, for the four weeks of the series.

There will be a live, online Q&A session for you to join - your chance to ask questions of the speakers. This will be held from 4-5pm (UTC) on Friday 5 November.

The recorded lectures will remain online and available to watch and review until Friday 12 November. (For reasons of data privacy, the Q&A sessions will not be recorded.)

Programme Details

Monday 11 October: Lecture

Welcome to the Lecture Series

Dr Laura Van Broekhoven, Director of the Pitt Rivers Museum

Decolonising Museums: Changing Curatorial Practices at the Pitt Rivers and Quai Branly

Vibe Nielsen, Visiting Fellow, Pitt Rivers Museum

Monday 18 October: Lecture

From Modern Savage to Human: Decolonial Approaches to Museum Interpretation and Collecting at the Pitt Rivers Museum

Marenka Thompson-Odlum, Curator and Researcher, Pitt Rivers Museum

Monday 25 October: Lecture

Music and Memory: Zimbabwean Instruments as Colonial Resistance

Ashley Coutu, Pitt Rivers Museum

Monday 1 November: Lecture

Reanimating Tibet in the Museum: Reconnecting Displaced Heritage and Displaced Peoples

Thupten Kelsang

Portrait of Laura Van Broekhoven

Laura Van Broekhoven is the Director of the Pitt Rivers Museum. She holds a Professorial Fellowship at Linacre College and is associated with the School of Anthropology and Museum Ethnography at Oxford. Previously she led the curatorial department of the National Museum of World Cultures (Amsterdam, Leiden and Berg en Dal) and was a lecturer in archaeology, museum studies and indigenous heritage at the Faculty of Archaeology at Leiden University. She currently serves on numerous advisory boards and panels, is a member of the Women Leaders in Museums Network (WLMN) and sits on the European Ethnographic Museum Directors Group. She was a participant in the Getty Museum Leadership Institute, co-chair of the Oxford and Colonialism Network and a founding member of Wayeb

Dr Vibe Nielsen

Vibe Nielsen is a Visiting Fellow at the University of Oxford, where she is affiliated with Linacre College. Her research focuses on processes of decolonisation and changing curatorial practices at the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford and le Musée du Quai Branly in Paris. She wrote her PhD thesis Demanding Recognition: Curatorial Challenges in the Exhibition of Art from South Africa (2019) as part of the Global Europe research project at the Department of Anthropology at the University of Copenhagen, where she is currently affiliated as Visiting Scholar.

Through anthropological fieldwork, as well as historical and museological methods, her PhD thesis examines contemporary curatorial practices in South African museums and art galleries. She continued working on these issues in her postdoctoral affiliation with the University of Copenhagen (2019-2020) and has recently published her analysis of the Rhodes Must Fall movement in her article In the Absence of Rhodes: Decolonizing South African Universities (2021) in the Ethnic and Racial Studies Journal vol. 44, no. 3. She is currently co-editing and contributing to the Routledge anthology Global Art in Local Art Worlds (forthcoming).

After receiving her MA in Museum Studies at University College London in 2012 and her MA in Modern Culture at the University of Copenhagen in 2015, Vibe Nielsen worked at the National Museum of Denmark as Curator of Public Programmes. In the final thesis of her MA in Museum Studies she explored the dissemination of the British involvement in the transatlantic slave trade in museums in London and Liverpool. This was an aspect she researched further in the final thesis of her MA in Modern Culture, where she analysed how Danish and British museums are dealing in different ways with their countries' colonial pasts.

Marenka Thompson-Odlum

Marenka Thompson-Odlum is a Research Associate at the Pitt Rivers Museum and a doctoral candidate at the University of Glasgow. Her doctoral research explores Glasgow's role in the trans-Atlantic slave trade through the material culture housed at Glasgow Museums. At the Pitt Rivers Museum she is the researcher on the Labelling Matters project, which investigates the problematic use of language within the museum spaces and ways of decolonisation through re-imagining the definition of a label.


Dr Ashley Coutu

Ashley Coutu is Research Fellow at the Pitt Rivers Museum. She received a BA from Boston College, USA in 2005, then moved to the UK to complete an MPhil in World Archaeology from the University of Cambridge in 2007. From 2007-2011, she completed her PhD as a Marie Curie Early Career Researcher on the EU-funded Historical Ecologies of East African Landscapes project at the University of York. Her PhD used a combination of archival, archaeological and bimolecular data to understand the impacts of the 19th-century ivory trade on elephants, humans and landscapes along caravan routes in East Africa. In 2012 she moved to Denmark as a postdoctoral researcher on the Entrepôt project and from 2013-2017 was based at the University of Cape Town, South Africa, holding a Claude Leon fellowship and then a Marie Curie International fellowship. The two fellowships centred on a project to map African ivory trade networks from the last 2,000 years by analysing ivory working materials, ivory objects and other small finds from archaeological sites across Southern Africa. After moving back to the UK in 2017, Ashley spent time as a Visiting Research fellow at the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts at the University of East Anglia and then took up a post as a Lecturer in Archaeology at Newcastle University, where she developed curriculum in global medieval archaeology with collections at the Great North Museum.

Thupten Kelsang in the Pitt Rivers Museum mimicking the pose of a buddha statue

Thupten Kelsang is a Doctoral Researcher at the School of Anthropology and Museum Ethnography, University of Oxford. His research and practice focus on creating sustainable and equitable relationships between the Tibetan community and museums; seeking to counter the acute absence of Tibetan voices in the field. Thupten's doctoral research is supported by the Clarendon Fellowship, and he was also the recipient of the Inlaks Fellowship (India). He has extensive experience in multiple roles within museums: curator and consultant, doctoral researcher, museum activist, and community organiser. He has been consulted by major cultural institutions such as the British Museum, the Pitt Rivers Museum and the National Trust. His other qualifications include MSc in Visual, Material & Museum Anthropology (University of Oxford), MA in History of Art (SOAS) and Postgraduate Diploma in Asian Art (SOAS). Prior to pursuing his studies, Thupten worked towards developing his initiative Tibetan Art Collective, speaking and consulting on Tibetan heritage at platforms such as the Kochi-Muziris Biennale and the Prince Claus Fund.