Research Article

Pots, Belts, and Medicine Containers: Challenging Colonial-era Categories and Classifications in the Digital Age

Abstract

With a specific focus on a material culture collection previously classified as Natal Nguni and Zulu at the Iziko South African Museum, this research article explores how digital spaces offer opportunities for changing the ways museums document and manage objects collected during colonial periods. This article draws attention to the highly constructed nature of museum documentation systems and the ways normalised colonial knowledge production practices are often replicated in digital versions of museums. Drawing on data I collected during workshops and interviews conducted 2016 – 2019 with descendent communities who self-identify as Zulu, I consider how their proposed, alternative categories, classifications, and information structures might take advantage of digital possibilities to change how museums construct knowledge about the people and cultures their objects are employed to represent. In conjunction with more rigorous repatriation and hiring policies, rethinking museum documentation systems is, as this article argues, an important step towards decolonising institutions.

Keywords

2020 (2)
Museum - Politics - Management

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