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‘time to reflect’ …. ‘tremendously rewarding’ … ‘I’ve come away with lots of ideas for doing things back at work’

The Museum Ethnographers Group runs a lively and affordable programme of events for its members with a focus on continual professional development. Recent events have included visits to exhibitions at the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, University of Cambridge and the Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford, a training day in undertaking collections research using family and local history resources, a workshop about curating human remains in UK museums and a visit to the Museum of World Cultures (Världskulturmuseet) in Gothenburg, Sweden.

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‘Keeping Connected’ coffee time online events
The last 18 months have been a challenging time for us all, with many of us working in isolation with limited contact with colleagues and peers. This was and is a particularly challenging at a time when the sector has also been under growing pressure to take action and implement change, when sharing support and advice with each other is so important. 
In 2021 MEG have been organising ‘Keeping Connected’ meetups on zoom. This is our second event and as before our aim is to provide a safe space to support and care for our each other as we work through particular challenges or changes to practice. We will anchor each session on a particular issue, inviting colleagues and community members who have recent experience to share some of their reflections and work. It will be an opportunity to ask questions, talk through barriers, share examples of best practice, chat to friends, and hear about the work that is being done in this area.
Thursday October 7th 11am – 1pm – Terminology

​In this second session, we will be focusing on problematic terminology, including current work on addressing racist and other offensive language in museum collection databases and online platforms, historic language, the use of trigger warnings, and staff skills and training needed for this work in museums.
Speakers confirmed:
Gabriella de la Rosa (Lead Editor of digital content, National Trust)
Gabriella will speak about the National Trust’s work to address outdated and offensive terminology in its collections management database, showing how its cataloguing has been informed by historic language in country house inventories, auction house records as well as individual bias.
Kathleen Lawther (Freelance Curator and Collections Consultant)
Kathleen will speak about her work on identifying and dealing with offensive and problematic language in museum’s public collections information. She will share her research findings on current practice and approaches to such terminology as well as the use of trigger warnings. She will discuss the skills and knowledge needed to deal effectively with problematic terms related to collections, and how to incorporate this into training new staff.

Carissa Chew (PHD candidate, formerly the Equalities, Diversity and Inclusion intern at the National Library of Scotland) & Stephen Rigden, Digital Archivist, Archives and Manuscript Division, National Library of Scotland

Carissa and Stephen will be speaking about their work at the National Library of Scotland reviewing and developing non-discriminatory library cataloguing practices and reviewing language and representation related to cultural sensitivity. They will share findings and introduce the Inclusive Terminology Guide and Glossary and Cultural Heritage Terminology network they have created as part of this work.


This event is open to members only. Please book through Eventbrite here:


In order to book you will need your 'Order Number' this is a 7 digit code that can be found on your membership renewal email which comes from This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it." target="_blank" style="color: blue;">This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. on 1st April each year, and also on any payment confirmation emails.

Previous events

Cancelledl due to COVID. Last year Manchester Museum and the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS) announced the unconditional repatriation of 43 secret, sacred and ceremonial objects to the Aranda people of Central Australia, Gangalidda Garawa peoples’ of northwest Queensland, Nyamal people of the Pilbara and Yawuru people of Broome.  This decision was seen by many in the museum sector as a sign of changing attitudes towards repatriation. As calls for repatriation increase many museums are unsure of how to go about responding to requests.  The Museum Ethnographers Group are therefore delighted to announce that they will be co-hosting a workshp with AIATSIS and Stephen Welsh (Manchester Museum) to discuss their recent work and provide guidance to others.

The event will be held at Kings House Conference Centre,   AIATSIS

12th March 1-45pm until 5pm.

Tickets are available from eventbrite.

The event is free but registration is essential.  Please not this event is only open to MEG members.  Details of how to join can be found on the Membership section of this website.

Full timetable below.

1.45-2.00 Arrive

2-2.45 Research / Engagement Process

  • What does the community engagement process look like?
  • When do you need to undertake community engagement?
  • What provenance research did you undertake and what did it involve?
  • Who undertook the research?
  • How long did the process take? What resources were required (staff, financial costs)?
  • Whose responsibility should it be to undertake the research? Is it a shared responsibility (i.e. museum and source community)?


Material in collections

  • What material is Secret/Sacred, ceremonial or gender restricted? How does a museum confirm if an item is restricted?
  • What material can be displayed, how should it be displayed, and what should be removed from public display?
  • How should secret / sacred, ceremonial material be stored?
  • How should the material be handled and by whom?
  • How does this apply to digital images?
  • What material might be requested for return?
  • Return V repatriation, meanings and implications? i.e. RoCH definition.
  • What material could be considered as potentially appropriate for co-custodianship or similar?


Cultural Protocols

  • What cultural protocols did you implement / follow as part of your research and subsequent repatriation?
  • What protocols should museums be mindful of? i.e. access / use.
  • Are there specific protocols that Institutions need to follow for certain items?
  • Confirmation of cultural custodianship / competing claims
  • What process did you undertake to confirm cultural custodianship of the requested items?
  • How did you confirm there was no competing claim to the requested items?
  • Whose responsibility is it to confirm there is no competing claim?

Repatriation Logistics / Costs

  • What was the financial cost of the return? What did this include/exclude?
  • Who covered / funded the return costs?
  • How should this be funded in the future? Whose responsibility is it? (shared, holding institution or source community)
  • Any potential funding possibilities for hosting an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander curator/intern?
  • Permit / Legislation / Regulations
  • What permits or exemptions did you acquire for the repatriation?
  • How did you identify / obtain these permits?
  • Was there any costs involved in obtaining the permits?
  • What information did you need to provide?
  • Our Research / Recent returns
  • What response/s have we received from UK institutions?
  • How do UK institutions compare with other overseas institutions and Australian institutions?

There will be the opportunity to continue discussions more informally in a nearby bar.

We are pleased to announce that the next MEG event will be a visit to the Royal Museum for Central Africa, Belgium. Members are invited to join us in Brussels from Thursday 6th – Sunday 9th February 2020.

exterieur Jo Van de VyverKMMA

The main focus of the trip will be a visit to the Royal Museum for Central Africa on Friday 7th February. The day’s programme will include a guided tour of the new galleries, speaking to staff about current curatorial decision making, the museum’s work with source and local BME communities, and a Q&A session. The day will finish with a teatime group discussion and reflection on the visit.

Saturday plans are TBC depending on numbers and members preferences, options are self-guided museum visits to Brussels and Antwerp museums or a guided tour of a preferred museum.

Members will be responsible for booking their own transport and accommodation, but suggested transport arrival and accommodation will be provided including airBnB sharing options to help keep the cost down. There will also be networking opportunities on Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings at selected pubs and restaurants. We hope this trip will provide members with a bit of time out from busy schedules, to get together with peers to share and reflect on current practices and future aspirations.

Proposed itinerary:

Travel to Brussels Thursday 6th

Visit Africa Museum Friday 7th

Explore Brussells and/or Antwerp Museums Saturday 8th

Travel home Sunday 9th

If you are interested in attending or finding out more please email Rachel at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Image provided courtesy of Royal Museum for Central Africa, Belgium


MEG event.1 18.07.19 sml

Below are notes taken on the day by Rachel Heminway Hurst - MEG welcomes responses to this account.

Attended by 18 MEG members and 3 members of staff from Derby Museums

  • Welcome by Tony Butler, Director, Derby Museums and Art Gallery

Helen Mears, Keeper of World Art at Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove introduced the Repatriation and Restitution workshop by setting the scene and outlining the main current reports and initiatives from UK and Europe ( see refs on the workshop agenda doc).

Notes on HMs presentation

  • The debate is currently dominated by some nationals and remarks by representatives such as Tristian Hunt have not been positive or forward thinking.
  • Laura Philips remarked that the official stance taken by the British Museum is not reflective of the thinking or work undertaken by most BM staff.
  • Many EU countries are showing a willingness to remove obstacles and actively engage with and progress the debate.
  • Contrary to the UK national perspective, the structure of regional museums means they can be more active and less constrained and there is an opportunity here for regionals to engage and be proactive.
  • But how do we set priorities for this work?
  • Collections Management and documentation are important in addressing the debate, also sharing knowledge and transparency are vital as is sharing and recognizing what we don't know.
  • Provenance research needs to be undertaken, but how do we resource this work, where do find the funding and who needs to involved and how do we share this information?
  • It is essential that we collaborate with international partners and diaspora communities.
  • We need to have a bigger understanding about moral and ethical concerns, not just focus on illegality, looking at the ‘colonial context’ in a broader sense and an understanding of inequality, not just Imperial conflicts.
  • Issues about repatriating to a state versus restitution to a community.

MGs doc from 2000 feels very out of date and limited, ACE working group to update this document, HM in this working group, keen to hear from and feedback in regional perspectives.

Tony Eccles, World Cultures Curator, Royal Albert Memorial Museum, Exeter

Tony shared case studies about three repatriation and restitution projects that he and his predecessors initiated and undertook.

  • The repatriation of shell necklaces to Tasmania and human remains to Australia in the 1990s, process was long and slow, working with the Local Authority and High Commissions in Australia and Tasmania.
  • These projects were huge learning curves for world art staff and museum management, and building trust and having clear provenance for objects were crucial to the success of the relationship and successful returns.
  • TE initiated the restitution of cultural material back to the Blackfoot community from North America. The act of restitution and repatriation is healing for and very important to these communities.
  • Honesty in our practice and provenance, telling the stories of donors and collections and their histories honestly. The importance of language used when interpreting objects. Ie. Choosing the work ‘plundered’ on an object label to best describe how the object from Benin found its way to the museum collection.

Inbal Livne, Head of Collections and Engagement, Powell Cotton Museum

Inbal shared her thinking in how to embed a new proactive approach on repatriation and restitution into her organization.

  • Not just public statements and actions, embedded in our orgs, feeding these ideas into policy statements, past collecting policy was ‘we will take anything that is world art’, deaccessioning, toolkits all say we should offer objects first to the UK? Why not go internationally if more relevant, why not doing this, so Inbal is pursuing this, 1963 object exchange with Uganda, Kampala Museum, happened so can we do again? So need to rewrite their policies accordingly, is this repatriation or museum exchange? Kampala is actively collection material from all over Africa.
  • Uganda link as PCs son was Commissioner in Uganda & PC spend lots of time there in 1902, so already have link and history. Working with other curators important who have relationships ie.Julie Hudson with Kampala relationship.
  • Need to find source of funding for this, as not expecting the museum they approach to pay for.
  • Why are not approaching international museums who also have professionalism, commitment to engaging with communities etc.
  • Small museums have opportunities to do exciting things that are relevant, not bound by national protocol etc, this provides us with opportunities to be innovative and embrace new practice.
  • Powell Cotton has more freedom than local authority. New generation of councilors more understanding of decolonization agenda starting to see the benefits for reputation & status.
  • Institutions making commitments to each other on equal footing, not just individuals who have passion, need commitment.
  • MEG role - sharing and plotting relationships that we can share across institutions and countries.
  • Sharing partners and expertise.

Group Discussion

  • Esme Fairburn funding disposal project for Derby &Derbyshire ex schools handling collection, large collection including African and other world art material. funding a disposal project, MA supportive of this. Case study of what you can do with this sort of collection.
  • MA conversation with Buxton Museum staff, disposals.
  • MAC project overview from Nicola -project looks at how decolonisation efforts are playing out in three different museums, reflecting on where we are at, opportunities and limits of the three organisations. Building relationships key international partners, a lot of provenance to be done, but not be al and end all, who does that provenance research ie. not just white researchers!!!
  • Long process but also increasing urgency that we need to respond to.
  • 12 months - response from Dutch museums pledge so do they have a good plan in place?
  • We need case studies and map of how to do this work. Map out a process.
  • Barriers -costs, governance.
  • ACE working group need to set up principles first before map, process.
  • New provenance research post at Horniman, diaspora communities and Africa museums.
  • In the UK should be look at Consortia bids, pooling resources for this.
  • Different ways of working with communities and diasporas needed and different focus.
  • Arts council - project grants - could be a consortium of museums to do this, maybe MEG or SSN consortium opportunity or Regions getting together.
  • Mapping exercise about what is going on -and sharing repatriation claim information, role for MEG

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