Establishing The Museum Ethnographers Group: Subject Specialist Networks And Professional Practice In A Changing World

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In April 1976, at a meeting held at the Pitt Rivers Museum, a resolution to establish the Museum Ethnographers Group was passed. MEG’s purpose was ‘to promote understanding of museum ethnography and the exchange of information and resources’, and ‘to advance the interests of museum ethnographers’ (MEG membership advert, 1977). But what were the major professional concerns amongst MEG’s members in its early years? How were they advanced? How did membership affect individual practice? We might also ask, in the mid 1970s, as the collapse of the British Empire appeared imminent how did decolonisation – politically and in museum practice – affect MEG’s members. How or did MEG members ‘decolonise’?

Drawing on MEG’s recently digitised archive, early newsletters, and new oral histories conducted with early members, this paper will consider the aims, working practices, and projects of the group from its initial meetings in 1974 throughout the 1970s. It will argue that the tentative signs of a decolonised museum practice were present long before the 1980s, when postcolonial museum practice is often seen to have emerged. Exploring MEG’s relationships with ICOM and UNESCO, UK government bodies, the Museums Association and university departments of anthropology and museum studies, this paper will consider the role of subject specialist networks in the changing museum landscape of the 1970s, and offer some tentative suggestions for the role of SSNs and MEG in decolonising museum practice today.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Museum Ethnography
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2023

Bibliographical note



  • museums
  • professionalisation
  • decolonisation


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