At the Pitt Rivers Museum we want to use the philosophical and psychological concept of Radical Hope to reimagine what the future might be for museums like ours that have deep roots in coloniality. Radical Hope is an idea that helps us to imagine the future after a moment of upheaval and change. The term was first developed by philosophers looking at the big questions of human existence, knowledge, reason and the mind. They wanted to better understand how people can recover after a traumatic experience, such as the loss of their culture. Philosopher Jonathan Lear illustrates this idea with the experience of Chief Plenty Coup. With the 19th Century destruction of the buffalo herds, Chief Plenty Coup's Crow Nation were faced with the end of their traditional way of life and had to reimagine their culture.
The collections we steward were collected during the height of the British Empire, when collectors felt entitled to bring hundreds of thousands of objects together and curators felt authorised to display and explain them to visitors, assuming that they were best suited to tell stories about those objects because they had studied them. We were once proud to be labelled 'universal' or 'encyclopaedic', because the Museum was supposedly bringing all cultures of the world under one roof for the purpose of learning and research. Today, we now think differently about what the purpose of our museum needs to be.
Radical Hope events will reimagine museum practice. They will focus on how Western museums have relied on colonial ideas that have erased the many ways of knowing and being of people from around the world in favour of promoting one viewpoint. The series will consider how museums can change to support humanity, our relationships to each other, to the environment and to things. Led by researchers and global indigenous community partners from around the world who are involved in unpicking colonial practices, the Radical Hope series will include topics such as the display of human remains, returns, equitable interpretation of cultures, inclusive curriculum and representation.
The reimagined museum will be a place that supports all people to share their ways of knowing, being, understanding and making - a place of many stories told by a multitude of voices.