93150 - Colonialism, Archaeology and Museums (LM)

Academic Year 2023/2024

  • Teaching Mode: Traditional lectures
  • Campus: Bologna
  • Corso: Second cycle degree programme (LM) in Archaeology and Cultures of the Ancient World (cod. 8855)

Learning outcomes

During the course students will acquire an understanding of the historical and epistemological relationships linking the development of archaeology and museology with colonialism. Current debates on decolonization will be reviewed, with special attention to contemporary movements in countries with a colonial past and to debates involving topics such as repatriation of human remains and artefacts, local curators, and community archaeology. By the end of the course students will be able to set the history of archaeology and museums in a wider epistemological framework, critically analysing archaeological and museological theory and practice. Students will also be able to apply their analytical skills to professional activities linked with the popularization and public use of archaeological and museum-linked expertise.

Course contents

The course will deal – in a roughly chronological order – with the development of Western archaeological/anthropological enquiry and museum collections in the wider historical and epistemological context of European colonial expansion. Starting with the birth of antiquarian practices in the 16th century, the classes will explore the many ways in which scientific enquiry had been entangled with the operativity of colonialism. A special attention will be devoted to the study of extra-European peoples and pasts, with a specific focus on indigenous American ones. Selected case studies will be explored to shed light on the ways in which this entanglement developed over the centuries, stressing not only how archaeological research and collecting practices benefited from European political domination of non-Western countries but also how the academic disciplines have been instrumental in providing the epistemological frameworks which legitimized colonial domination, thus creating a circular, self-sustaining relationship of mutual support. The last part of the course will discuss recent attempts at the decolonization of archeological and museum activities through the implementation of good practices such as collaborative and community archaeology, objects repatriation, and indigenous curatorship.




Thursday, September 28, 2023. Syllabus discussion:

  • Moro-Abadía, Oscar, 2006. “The History of Archaeology as a ‘Colonial Discourse’”, Bulletin of the History of Archaeology, 16(2), pp.4–17.
  • Lydon, Jane and Uzma Z. Rizvi. 2010. “Postcolonialism and Archaeology”, in Jane Lydon and Uzma Z. Rizvi (eds:9, Handbook of Postcolonial Archaeology, pp. 17-33. Walnut Creek: Left Coast Press.
  • Bennett, Tony. 2015. “Thinking (with) Museums. From Exhibitionary Complex to Governmental Assemblage”, in Andrea Witcomb and Kylie Message.(eds.), The International Handbooks of Museum Studies: Museum Theory, John Wiley & Sons, pp. 3-20.


Thursday, October 5, 2023. Syllabus discussion:

  • Clifford, James. 1997. “Museums as Contact Zones”, inJames Clifford,Routes: Travel and Translation in the Late Twentieth Century, pp.188–219. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
  • Shelton, Alan. 2013. “Critical Museology: A Manifesto”, Museum Worlds Advances in Research 1(1): 7-23.
  • Sarr, Felwine & Benédicte Savoy. 2018. The Restitution of African Cultural Heritage. Toward a New Relational Ethics. Paris: Seuil. (only pages 1-89).


Thursday, October 12, 2023. Syllabus discussion:

  • Smith, Laurajane. 2012. “Discourses of heritage: implications for archaeological community practice”, Nuevo mundo mundos nuevos, Jan. 2012: 1-11.
  • Atalay, Sonia. 2006. “Indigenous Archaeology as Decolonizing Practice”, American Indian Quarterly30(3/4), Special Issue: Decolonizing Archaeology, pp. 280-310.
  • Christina Kreps. 2009. “Indigenous curation, museums, and intangible cultural heritage”, in Laurajane Smith and Natsuko Nakagawa (edss), Intangible Heritage, pp. 193-208. London and New York: Routledge.


Thursday, October 13, 2023. Syllabus discussion:

  • Gosden, Chris, and Yvonne Marshall. 1999. The Cultural Biography of Objects, World Archaeology31(2): 169-178.
  • Hicks, Dan. 2021. "Necrography: Death-Writing in the Colonial Museum", British Art Studies 19.
  • Thomas, Nicholas. 2019. “The Museum as Method (revisited)1”, in Philipp Schorch, and Conal McCarthy (eds), Curatopia: Museums and the future of curatorship, Manchester Scholarship Online.


Students attending classes will be asked to read the articles and book chapters of the syllabus that will be collectively discussed in class (see previous section). All the articles and book chapters of the syllabus will be provided in the ‘teaching materials’ sections of the website, only accessible to Unibo students with institutional credentials. At the end of the course, attending students will write a final paper on a topic previously agreed with the teacher, employing both the syllabus of weekly readings as well as a more specific set of bibliographical references that each student is required to create.

The weekly syllabus will be provided before the beginning of the classes

Non-attending students will be evaluated through an oral exam. To prepare the exam they will be required to read the articles and book chapters of the syllabus, PLUS one of the following volumes:

Ames, Michael M., Cannibal Tours and Glass Boxes. The Anthropology of Museums, University of British Columbia Press, Vancouver 1992.

Bennett, Tony, Museums, Power, Knowledge. Selected Essays, Routledge, London 2018

Clifford, James, Routes: Travel and Translation in the Late Twentieth Century, Harvard University Press, Cambridge 1997.

Díaz-Andreu, Margarita, A World History of Nineteenth-Century Archaeology. Nationalism, Colonialism, and the Past, Oxford University Press, Oxford 2007

Gosden, Chris and Ruth B. Phillips (eds.), Sensible Objects. Colonialism, Museums and Material Culture, Berg, Oxford-New York 2006.

Henare, Amiria, Museums, Anthropology and Imperial Exchange, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 2005.

Karp, Ivan, and Steven D. Levine, Exhibiting Cultures. The Poetics and Politics of Museum Display, Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington and London 1991.

Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, Barbara, Destination Culture. Tourism, Museums, and Heritage, University of California Press, Berkeley 1998.

Lydon, Jane and Uzma Rizvi (eds.): Handbook of Postcolonial Archaeology, Left Coast Press, Walnut Creek 2010 (Introduction and four selected chapters).

Rizvi, Uzma Z., Archaeology and the postcolonial critique, Altamira Press, Plymouth 2008 (Introduction and four selected chapters).

Sleeper-Smith, Susan (ed.), Knowledge. Museums and Indigenous Perspectives, University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln 2009.

Thomas, David, Skull Wars: Kennewick Man, Archaeology, and the Battle for Native American Identity, Basic Books, New York 2000.

Thomas, Nicholas, Colonialism’s Culture. Anthropology, Travel and Government, Polity Press, Cambridge 1994.

Thomas, Nicholas, Entangled Objects. Exchange, Material Culture, and Colonialism in the Pacific, Harvard University Press 1991.

Teaching methods

Teaching method will be based on both frontal lessons and collective discussions.

During frontal lessons the teacher will introduce general topics and connected scholary debates, then discussing in detail some specific example based on textual or visual sources in order to introduce the students to actual source-reading activity. Students will be encouraged to comment and ask questions.

Every week a certain amount of time (approx. 2 hours) will be specifically devoted to collective discussion of the readings and of the themes exposed during the frontal lessons. Students will be strongly encouraged to actively take part in the discussion.

Assessment methods

Active participation in class discussions will be one of the elements taken into account for the final evaluation. Students attending classwork will write a final paper on a topic agreed with the teacher and based both on the references listed in the reading list and on further specific bibliography selected by the student.

The grade assigned to the paper will be based on:

- selection of the topic and its relatedness with the course content

- ability to identify relevant bibliography

- critical analysis

- clarity in structure and aims

- language proficiency

Students that do not attend classwork will have to pass an oral exam, with questions aimed to verify the student's knowledge of the themes treated in the program's texts. The questions will be aimed at testing the student's ability in exposing with an appropriate language some of the topics tackled by the books, as well as his/her skills in making connections between different texts in order to build an argument.

Proper language and the ability to critically speak about the books' content will lead to a good/excellent final grade

Acceptable language and the ability to resume the books' content will lead to a sufficient/fair grade.

Insufficient linguistic proficiency and fragmentary knowledge of the books' content will lead to a failure in passing the exam.

Teaching tools

During frontal lessons the teacher will do ample use of power point presentations containing maps, as well as a good deal of textual and visual sources commented upon during the lesson.

After class, the powerpoint files will be uploaded in the teaching material section of the website, so that students will be able to download them.

Office hours

See the website of Davide Domenici