Wayne Modest will present in the Museum Conversations Seminar on Tuesday, March 27, at 6 pm. His talk is entitled “Pressing Matter: On Museums, Material Culture Studies, and Questions of the Colonial.”

Amidst the anxious politics that animates discussions about the present and future of Europe and its different nation states, battles over citizenship and belonging, over who is considered to be or who can be European, have also been battles around European heritage. Some scholars have identified these battles as part of the culturalization of citizenship, where postcolonial and post-migrant citizens are measured according to whether their presumed culture and values fit with those acknowledged to be European. Within these discussions, ethnographic and world cultures museums find themselves in a contradictory bind, a double bind, one could say. On the one hand, these museums are seen as prominent loci around which critiques of colonial durabilities have been focused, whether in questions surrounding the extraction, appropriation, or ownership of the collections they now hold, often as part of European national patrimony; the elision of the colonial genealogies of their own formation; or around the (mis)representation of formerly colonized peoples. Almost contradictorily, however, they have also been imagined, indeed mobilized, as institutions with a central role to play to connect with diverse postcolonial and post-migrant communities within European changing polities, as spaces of recognition or sites for belonging work. In this presentation, Modest will think through this double bind. His interest is to ask what might more serious attention to colonial things do for the present and future of these museums. His focus will be primarily on Europe, taking the recently established Research Center for Material Culture, a center that he heads, as the focus.

Wayne Modest is director of the Research Center for Material Culture, the research institute of the Tropenmuseum, Amsterdam, Museum Volkenkunde, Leiden, Afrika Museum, Berg en Dal, and Wereldmuseum, Rotterdam. He is also Professor of Material Culture and Critical Heritage Studies in the faculty of humanities at the Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam. Modest’s research and writing focusses on issues related to colonial collecting and display, the history of ethnographic museums/collections, difficult heritage, as well as questions surrounding issues of repair, care, and justice for historical wrongs. His co-edited volume (together with Tim Barringer) Victorian Jamaica, which is an exploration of the material and visual culture of Jamaica during the period of 1837 through 1901, will be published by Duke University Press in May of 2018. His previous publications include Museums, Heritage and International Development (co-edited with Paul Basu) and Museum and Communities (with Viv Golding).