The Museum of Other People: From Colonial Acquisitions to Cosmopolitan Exhibitions

Pantheon. Apr. 2024. 432p. ISBN 9780593700679. $35. SOC SCI
Anthropologist Kuper (Anthropology and Anthropologists) presents a nuanced, informative look at the history, development, and future of museums of anthropology and ethnology in Europe and the Americas. The establishment of famous museums and the formative work of early anthropologists are balanced with frank discussions about artifacts looted during colonial conquests, along with the racist underpinning of exhibits that contrasted “primitive” Indigenous societies with European and Euro-American “civilization.” Kuper shows how the anti-colonial and civil rights movements of the 20th century forced museums to reevaluate their missions and presentations. He also reveals how some museums, in an effort to atone for past practices, have erred in the opposite extreme, sidelining anthropological data, ceding exhibition decisions to private sponsors, and avoiding controversial topics out of fear that they’ll offend somebody. The solution, he argues, is not a wholesale repatriation of artifacts but greater contextualization, balance, and transparency in exhibitions.
VERDICT This highly recommended work about anthropological museums and creating culturally appropriate exhibits challenges preconceptions and encourages readers to think critically about this complex and important issue.
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