Date of Award

Summer 7-26-2018

Degree Type


Degree Name

MA Museum Professions


Communication and the Arts


Petra Chu, Ph.D.


colonialism, decolonization, ethnographic, museums, display, post-colonial


Today, the word ‘colonialism’ brings to mind a dark page in Western history. In the nineteenth century, it was justified as a civilizing mission of the West, aimed at bringing culture, religion, and prosperity to the ‘primitive’ people of non-Western countries.

Many Western colonizers took objects from colonized peoples, bringing them back, first as curiosities, then as objects of study and wonder to be displayed in ethnographic museums. Ethnographic museums today exist in a post-colonial world, where people recognize that taking these objects in many cases was wrong and, in some cases, criminal. This raises the question of whether museums should return these objects or retain them and, and, in case of the latter option, how museums should display ethnographic objects obtained during the colonial period today? Ethnographic museums, generally, have two options: aesthetic display or contextual display. In this paper, I will discuss both options and make a case for, what I believe, is the better display method for ethnographic objects in a post-colonial world.