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date: 21 September 2021

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter portrays the historical actors who established the unique ethnographic collections of the Royal Museum for Central Africa and the Royal Museum of the Armed Forces and of Military History (Belgium). The objects they collected, like the majority of those in the museum, arrived in Belgium during the colonial period. The government of the Congo Free State, then the Ministry of Colonies and several scientific institutes issued directives encouraging their agents to collect artifacts, as well as photographic images of “indigenous types” and specimens of physical anthropology. This chapter examines the current amnesia about human remains of colonial provenance and the challenges surrounding the exhibition of religious objects now presented as great artworks of universal interest by metropolitan museums. Addressing the ethics of curatorial practice, the chapter proposes that curators of ethnological collections of colonial provenance, as public historians, strive to make collecting history accessible to larger audiences in their exhibitions.

Keywords: museum, colonialism, Belgian Congo, Congo Free State, violence, collecting, spoliation, ethnography, curatorial practice, exhibitions

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