Ireland, Museums, Empire, Colonialism: Collections, Archives, Buildings and Landscapes

17 May 2021

CALL FOR PAPERS: Ireland, Museums, Empire, Colonialism: Collections, Archives, Buildings and Landscapes

Ulster Museum and Queen’s University Belfast (or online depending on COVID-19). 8-9 April 2022.

Confirmed keynotes: Professor Hakim Adi, Professor Corinne Fowler, Professor Jane Ohlmeyer, Lynn Scarff, Dr Audrey Whitty

A Call for Papers has been issued for this inter-disciplinary conference, which will interrogate the complexities of Ireland’s relationship with the British Empire, and of Irish involvement in colonialism. The conference aims to connect academic researchers, practitioners, activists and policy-makers who are interested in objects, archives, buildings, and landscapes in both public and private spaces and throughout the island of Ireland; and to inform current debates surrounding collections from colonised regions, including Africa, the Americas, the Arctic, Asia and Oceania. Papers on the conference themes but not pertaining to Ireland will be welcome. It is intended that the conference proceedings will be collected in an edited volume.


Museums and Heritage Decolonisation: To whom do ‘colonial objects’ in Ireland’s public and private collections rightfully belong, and what are the ethical and legal challenges that they raise? How diverse are the histories being researched and written about collections from the global south? Which are the collections, buildings and landscapes that connect the Irish with people who were enslaved and with their enslavement? How are ownership and access currently being negotiated, what collaborations are happening on restitution and repatriation, and are museums experiencing tensions between diverse human interests in making these decisions? What have been the impacts of social justice movements and Black Lives Matter on cultural institutions in Ireland, and what models of practice are being adopted? Are Ireland’s collections and buildings being decolonised, and if so, how?

Identities and Nationhood: Did Partition and the establishment of Northern Ireland change how collections, buildings and landscapes connected with Ireland’s imperial pasts were regarded, cared for, displayed, interpreted, and published? How did, or do, political perspectives on the history of Ireland itself, impact how people relate to ‘colonial objects’ from the wider British Empire; and did the Troubles shift the ways in which these collections were understood? Will Brexit lead to differences between how imperial collections, buildings and landscapes are managed in Northern and the Republic of Ireland?

Race, Ethnicity, Documentation, Representation: Have objects collected in former British colonies been instrumentalised in Irish domestic life or by museums to signify an ‘us’ in contradistinction to an ‘other’ – and if so, who are or what are the ‘us’ and ‘other’ that they have been used to represent? What can these collections tell us about Irish involvement in the construction of race and racism; and is there sufficient documentation to enable the discovery of these histories? Can objects collected in former colonies be used to tell the stories of diverse peoples living in Ireland today, and if so, who is authoring these narratives? Papers will be welcomed which explore the intersection of race with other forms of oppression – such as in relation to gender, sexuality, class, and disability. Have museums and heritage institutions in Ireland begun to identify whether colonial collections signify these intersectional inequalities, and if so, what has changed as a result?

Stories and Histories of Collecting, Memorialising, or Forgetting: To whose biographies are these objects, buildings and landscapes relevant, and what stories of Irish colonial relationships can they – and should they – be used to tell? What do histories of collecting reveal about networks within and between source and Irish communities? How has the documentation of collections memorialised, or alternatively led to the forgetting, of the lives with which they have been entangled? How can ‘colonial collections’ be used to inform biographical and place-based research; and to understand historical migrations and travel?

Awareness and Education: How informed are people in Ireland, north and south, about the histories of Irish engagement in the British Empire, and what have been the barriers to learning about these pasts? Do school curricula and university courses in Ireland and Northern Ireland favour white narratives; and if so, has Black Lives Matter begun to change this? What needs to happen to broaden and deepen the ways in which we teach and are taught about Ireland and the UK’s relationships with colonialism and the British Empire; and what more can museums do to support diverse historical perspectives and engage with a greater diversity of learners?

Emotion and Affect: In Ireland and Northern Ireland, how do people feel about, relate to, and identify with objects, archives, buildings, and landscapes that recall our colonial past? Has distaste surrounding colonialism and imperialism led to a deliberate forgetting of these collections and places, and how do narratives about them, when told in private, differ from those relayed in public? What are, or were, their emotional, sensory, physiological, or psychological impacts?

The conference is organised by the Centre for Public History and Institute of Irish Studies in Queen’s University Belfast. The partners in the project are National Museums NI, the Irish Museums Association, Northern Ireland Museums Council and the Centre for the Study of Historic Irish Houses and Estates at the University of Maynooth.

If you would like to speak at the conference, please submit an abstract by 17:00 on 2 July 2021, using this Form. In the event of any queries, please email Click here for more information (external links).

Conference conveners: Dr Briony Widdis, Dr Emma Reisz and Prof Dom Bryan, School of History, Anthropology, Philosophy and Politics, Queen’s University Belfast