Archaeology, Museums, and the Decolonization Debate


05 mai 2020



Musée L - Auditorium du Monceau

Mirjam Brusius, German Historical Institute, London. Invitée par A. Van de Ven, dans le cadre de l’exposition singulière au Musée L: Parcours d'archéologues : entre archives et objets.

Imperial interests and archaeology in the Middle East went hand in hand. This paper investigates the role of archaeological finds between the excavation site in ancient Mesopotamia and attempts to shift and incorporate them into European canonical traditions in the long 19th century. Research on the excavations and their museological reception in Europe has mostly drawn a picture of a well-organised, purposive and logical enterprise in which finding and excavating objects had a clear purpose. Little attention has been paid to the fact, that the finds were initially objects without a clear status, even once they arrived in Europe. In exploring the circulation of cultural values and floating meanings of these objects, this paper will scrutinize teleological and Eurocentric approaches to the topic and shed light on a shady and undefined time period between two apparently stable components in the historiography of these expeditions. By challenging narratives, which retrospectively deny the uncertainty and indigenous labour involved in these events, the paper is an intervention of the current link between modernity, scientific and scholarly expertise and archaeology that has long dominated the history of archaeology in the Middle East. A history of science ‘from below’ takes into account not only scientific, institutionalized and professionalized knowledge and therefore challenges the colonial underpinnings of the foundation of archaeology as an institutionalized science. Finally, the paper will also ask why archaeological collections seem more ‘immune’ in the ’Decolonize the Museum’ debate.


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