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Dragon Interview: Cllr James Steel on ‘Decolonising’ the Museum

Published on: 24 Jul, 2020
Updated on: 28 Jul, 2020

The proposal announced by Guildford Borough Council to “decolonise” Guildford Museum is proving controversial.

Martin Giles interviews Cllr James Steel, lead councillor for the Environment, whose portfolio includes the museum, to find out more about the thinking behind the idea and asks whether the residents of Guildford will have a say.

See also: Plan to ‘Decolonise’ Guildford Museum Stirs a Storm of Comment and Criticism

The size of the Guildford Museum collection was discussed in the interview. The GBC website states: “We look after over 100,000 objects covering archaeology, social history, art and textiles.”

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Responses to Dragon Interview: Cllr James Steel on ‘Decolonising’ the Museum

  1. Ben Paton Reply

    July 25, 2020 at 12:11 am

    Some will chase any bandwagon.

  2. Jules Cranwell Reply

    July 25, 2020 at 7:28 am

    I have never heard such absolute drivel. I cannot believe that Cllr Steel has ever visited the museum. It would have been better if he had gone there to see if any problem exists.

    He looked really uncomfortable defending this initiative and totally unsure of his brief.

    Cllr Steel was certainly ill-advised to agree to this interview, but well done The Dragon.

  3. John Powell Reply

    July 25, 2020 at 10:04 am

    I think let historians do the history.

    “Depoliticize” Guildford Museum.

    Encourage local political figures to concentrate on doing things that are beneficial to residents and visitors.

  4. Rachel Spruce Reply

    July 25, 2020 at 3:22 pm

    I would love to understand more about Guildford’s colonial history and I think that this review of the museum’s collection can only add to our understanding of our local history and increase our knowledge of the context of the artefacts in our museum.

    I thought the whole point of a museum was to educate? If we don’t want to actively learn about the artefacts held there, then why are we holding onto them in the first place?

    In case it matters (and it shouldn’t, but there we go), I am a white Guildford resident. It sounds like this is the start of a discussion that is long overdue.

  5. Gavin Morgan Reply

    July 25, 2020 at 4:53 pm

    I agree with Rachel Spruce. Museums need to reach out to everyone and there are some interesting stories about colonialism and early explorers that we should write up. But this “initiative” is not the way to do it.

    I have looked at the collections summary document and spoken to former curators and there is no obvious material on colonialism. Guildford was for the most part a rural town.

    Of course, it is always possible to look at objects in a new light but what do we want? Do we want to tie up museum staff for years going through 100,000 items (not 1,000 as Cllr Steel thought), object by object writing reports on anything remotely relevant to colonialism as proposed by this statement?

    Or do we want staff to engage with community groups and research exhibitions and publications on questions people are interested in? I imagine most of us will want the latter.

    Gavin Morgan is the founder of the Guildford History Forum

  6. Nick Ratnieks Reply

    August 6, 2020 at 10:27 am

    “Nothing on this scale has been done before.” I imagine there’s a reason for this and it has to do with resources that are often stretched and used for what is most appropriate, as opposed to what is part of a fashion for politicians trying to make a name for themselves.

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