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Confronting Colonialism: Unearthing Groningen University Museum’s Colonial Past

Emily Shoebridge Martin & Marnix Ripke

A museum’s handling of its colonial collections is an increasingly essential conversation in the heritage world. Where do the items come from? How should we deal with these items? In what context can they be exhibited? What is the responsibility of the museum? In the words of sociologist and political activist Stuart Hall, “The Heritage inevitably reflects the governing assumptions of its time and context. It is always inflected by the power and authority of those who have colonised the past, whose version of history matters”.

Ancestor Skull, Papua New Guinea from the Van Baaren Collection at the University of Groningen Museum
Ancestor Skull, Papua New Guinea from the Van Baaren Collection at the University of Groningen Museum

As such, this project focuses on the colonial collection at the museum of the University of Groningen. The vast collection, consisting of 9,000 items, ranges greatly from providence, to cultural significance, to collectors. Our scope limits itself to the collection of former university theology professor Theo van Baaren. This project will function in two ways, firstly we are creating a digital resource addressing the complexities of museums and their colonial collections. This resource will feature an overview of Van Baaren, what he collected, his ideas, etc. as well as providing critical perspectives on the collection itself. Furthermore, our project will also create a policy document focused on specific objects of the Van Baaren collection that could be considered contested or “hot” items. The document will address how the university should responsibly manage the collection as the museum currently has no procedure set in place. We are excited to work on this project and start the process of critically examining the colonial objects and opening up the museum’s colonial past.

Last modified:13 March 2023 09.41 a.m.