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11 May 2023 - 12 May 2023

9:00AM - 6:00PM

Hotel Indigo: 9 Old Elvet, Durham, England, DH1 3HL

  • Free

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Join us for 'Collecting, Colonialism and Empire: Working with archives and museum collections in Northeast England and Northern Ireland'! This two-day postgraduate training workshop is funded by the Northern Bridge Doctoral Training Consortium, and is organised and hosted by the Centre for Visual Arts and Culture (CVAC), Durham University.

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An archive engraving (1907) showing the bird room of the Hancock museum. Image source: Wikimedia Commons

Collecting, Colonialism, and Empire: Working with archives and museum collections in Northeast England and Northern Ireland

11 – 12 May 2023 at Hotel Indigo, Durham

Collecting, Colonialism, and Empire is a two-day training event hosted by the Centre for Visual Arts and Culture (CVAC) at Durham University with support from the Northern Bridge Doctoral Training Consortium. The training event will confront the deep and wide-ranging legacies of empire in British collections. It will showcase the often-overlooked dimensions of colonialism in Northeast England and Northern Ireland as well as the impact of historical decolonization, which is manifest in two of the sites that will host training sessions in Durham: the Oriental Museum (founded in 1961) and the Palace Green Library (holder of the post-1956 Sudan Archive).


Talks from a range of academics, archivists, and curators will help doctoral students understand the practical implications of collecting histories for institutions today, including the ethical issues raised around interpretation, digitization, access, ownership, and research. Hands-on sessions with archival material in the Palace Green Library and museum objects in the Oriental Museum will allow students to work together to identify challenges, explore new approaches, and problematize existing categories of documentation and display. The event will also ask what it might mean to decolonize collections, archives, and scholarship – and what individual researchers and institutions need to do to work with and towards this intellectual and professional challenge in the 21st century.

Organizations taking part include Beamish Museum, the National Museum of the Royal Navy at Hartlepool, the National Trust, Raby Castle, and Tyne and Wear Archives and Museum Service, as well as the Oriental Museum and Palace Green Library at Durham University.

  • This training event is free to attend; priority places go to postgraduate researchers from members of the Northern Bridge Consortium of Universities.

Please note that priority will be given to postgraduate researchers funded via the Northern Bridge Consortium. There are places available for postgraduate students funded by other routes; these will be allocated on a first-come-first-served basis.


Download as pdf: Collecting, Colonialism and Empire: CVAC/NB Workshop Programme

Thursday, 11 May 2023

9.00    Registration and refreshments, Hotel Indigo

9.30    Welcome and Introduction

Christina Riggs (History, Durham University)

10.00  Global Beamish: Revisiting History at The Living Museum of the North

Julie-Marie Strange (History, Durham University)

Helen Barker (Beamish, The Living Museum of the North)

Rheba Macha (History, Durham University

Natasha Anson (History, Durham University)

Established in 1970, Beamish is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the Northeast of England, known for its recreations of 19th and 20th century village life and its use of costumed interpreters. But whose histories does Beamish represent, and how does it situate its account of the region’s industrial development in the context of the British Empire? In this session, an academic, a curator, and a postgraduate researcher share their work on a project called Global Beamish, which aims to draw attention to underrepresented histories of class, gender, immigration, and race.

11.30  Tea and Coffee Break

12.00  Collecting, Colonialism, and the Country House

Jo Moody (National Trust)

Julie Biddlecombe-Brown (Raby Castle)

June Watson (Northumbria University)

Historic properties in England include country houses as well as more modest residential buildings, the majority of which date to the era of British colonialism, involvement in the slave trade, and imperial expansion. Properties may belong to the National Trust (a registered charity) or be overseen by Historic England (a non-departmental public body), while others remain in private ownership. How are historic properties researching their collections’, owners’, and occupants’ links to colonialism and empire, and what challenges do they face in presenting this research to wider audiences? In this session, professional practitioners and a postgraduate researcher share their research and reflections on this important and timely theme.

13.30  Lunch

14.30  Please make your way to the Oriental Museum for our afternoon session.

15.00  South Asia at the Oriental Museum: Research, Teaching, and Display

Rachel Barclay (Senior Curator, Oriental Museum, Durham University)

Radha Kapuria (History, Durham University)

Jonathan Saha (History, Durham University)

This session at the Oriental Museum features a handling session and discussion with academic researchers who are using its collections to develop decolonial approaches to teaching, as well as a chance to examine display practices in the galleries, with insights from museum curators.

17.00  Reception Place TBD

Please make your own arrangements for dinner.

 Friday, 12 May 2023

9.00    Registration and refreshments, Hotel Indigo

9.30    Looking Otherwise: Object Histories and Material Worlds

Emma Reisz (History, Queen’s University Belfast)

Annie Tindley (History, Newcastle University

Briony Widdis (Anthropology, Queen’s University Belfast)

The second day begins with a panel exploring how reading and interpreting material and visual culture can shed new light on histories of colonialism and empire. It features scholars from different disciplines whose work draws out how colonial and imperial expansion shaped the production, circulation, interpretation, and appropriation of material artefacts and visual culture.

11.00  Tea and Coffee Break

11.30  Museums, Archives, and Empire in the Northeast

Lizzy Baker (Tyne and Wear Archives)

Andrew Parkin (Great North Museum: Hancock, Tyne and Wear Museums)

Clare Hunt (National Museum of the Royal Navy, Hartlepool)

Carolyn Ball (Durham County Record Office)

TBC: Curators from up to two other organizations in the Northeast

This session comprises short presentations and a panel discussion featuring curators and archivists from a range of institutions in the Northeast. In what ways did global processes of empire-building, and its aftermaths, shape their archives and collections – and what are the implications for their curatorial, interpretation, and development strategies today? More than 12 years into a period of fiscal austerity, museums and archives with a range of governance structures face funding and other challenges, with practical implications for engaging with their users, visitors, and collections.

13.00  Lunch

14.00  Please make your way to Palace Green Library for our afternoon session.

14.15  Colonialism, Slavery, and Empire in the Palace Green Library

Jonathan Bush (Archivist, Palace Green Library)

Francis Gotto (Archivist, Palace Green Library)

Christina Riggs (History, Durham University)

At this hands-on session in the Palace Green Library, delegates will explore visual and material culture from the Durham University’s Special Collections, including the Sudan Archive created at the university after Sudan achieved independence from the British Empire in 1956. How does empire structure this archive? How does the university communicate, consult, or collaborate with researchers in Sudan and South Sudan, as well as members of the Sudanese diaspora? What interpretive tools and ethics of care do different archival holdings – such as photographs, battle trophies, or private papers – require? We’ll also hear about new research investigating the university’s links to the Atlantic trade in enslaved people, with headline findings and future plans.

16.15  Please make your way to Place TBD (on Palace Green) for our closing session

16.30  Discussion and Reflection – with tea/coffee and refreshments

To draw our two-day training event to a close, this final session invites delegates to reflect on the research and practices that speakers have shared with us and offer their own insights and critiques. What strategies (if any) have seemed most promising, and where are the sticking points? How can museums, archives, and universities most effectively embed decolonizing approaches? Have our discussions helped delegates see ways forward in their own research? There are challenges in reinterpreting collections in our current moment, marked as it is by ‘culture wars’, funding shortfalls, and pressing concerns for climate and social justice. But more accurate and inclusive histories represent an important step towards a more equitable and informed society.

18.00  Close



Organised by the Durham Centre for Visual Arts and Culture (CVAC):