Attending the Museum Association 2021 Annual Conference thanks to the Research Training Support Grant.

Marjotte Miles, Economic & Social History, University of Liverpool (2021 Cohort)

Every year, the Museum Association organises an annual conference that highlights some of the most contemporary debates in the museum sector. This year, the conference took place at the Museums of Liverpool and centred around the question – “How can museums change lives in a post-pandemic world and help society respond to the many challenges it faces?”. The program included a varied panel that discussed
topics such as climate action, queer rights, colonisation and technology.

As a current MA student in Digital Humanities at the University of Lancaster, I prioritised attending sessions that focused on the challenges and benefits of using digital methods in museums. This included a thought-provoking discussion chaired by Dr Sophie Frost (University of Leicester) on the impact of digital skills in museum work. I was particularly interested in the fact that many museums appear overwhelmed by the amount of data they own and struggle with the practicalities of open access resources and downloadable datasets. Having been introduced to this terminology in the first few months of my MA, I realised how central and relevant digital humanities are in the museum sector. This cemented my interest in developing my digital and critical skills.

After I finish my MA at Lancaster, I shall be starting my PhD in History at the University of Liverpool in conjunction with the Museums of Liverpool and Liverpool John Moores University. Entitled ‘Museums, Big Data and the Violence of Empire’, the project seeks to investigate “how imperial and colonial violence has been conceptualised and perpetuated through imperial and colonial collecting, curatorial decision-making, and
museum display practices”. I was therefore extremely grateful to attend the conference’s sessions focusing on cultural repatriation and colonialism. One session in particular, which included a discussion between Onyekachi Wambu (African Foundation for Development), Bryan Knight, Monica Hanna, Ciraj Rassool (University of the Western Cape) and Mary-Ann Middlekoop (Pitt Rivers Museum), examined restitutions from
western museums to Africa. The speakers referenced the Sarr-Savoy Report, the basis of an agreement between France and certain African countries on the subject of restitution and cultural looting, questioning its impact and convincingly arguing that restitutions need to become an essential practice for museums. Another session, “Launching Supporting Decolonisation in Museums”, brought together professionals from the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Natural History Museum, the Pitt Rivers Museum and the Hunterian Museum to discuss the work of the Museums Association’s Decolonisation Guidance Working Group. The programme seeks to produce advice “to implement decolonising practices”. It was fascinating to hear more about practical advice, especially as my current research focuses on more theoretical aspects of decolonisation.

The conference reinforced my interest in researching how digital platforms can help generate counter-narratives that open museum spaces to marginalised voices. It comforted me in the idea that the doctoral studies I will be undertaking next year are tackling essential and urgent issues. It also reinforced the importance of the skills I am currently learning as part of my MA in Digital Humanities.

I am deeply grateful to the NWSSDTP Research Training Support Grant for enabling me to attend the conference. I decided to attend the conference online, which still allowed me to contact fellow attendees through the conference app. Submitting my RTSG form was extremely straightforward. I filled out the form before asking my supervisor to sign it. I then sent it off to the NWSSDTP by email with the necessary receipts and received a confirmation by email. I was reimbursed for the conference costs around ten days later.

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