Labeling Colonialism

Short but but effective exploration of some challenges faced by museums when interpreting colonial histories, with some great suggestions on how to overcome them.

Public Historian

When history museums interpret stories of colonialism and oppression, words matter. But which words are the right ones? Museums that interpret charged historical stories are often criticized as preachy or politically correct if they use certain words, or cowardly if they avoid them. But words like “colonialism” can also be overdetermined, too filled with ambient cultural meaning for visitors to approach their real significance for people’s lived experiences. Such words can also be too clinical, inadvertently serving to mask experiences and incidents that more specific phrases can reveal.  

So how do you choose the right words for exhibit labels that can help visitors engage with histories of oppression?  You need to be intentional about some key choices.

Ask for Help

It is logistically and schedule-wise very difficult to run all your labels by your community partner group (you are not planning to develop an exhibit on colonialism by yourself…

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