Simpson, M. 1996 / 2001. Making Representations: Museums in the Post-colonial Era, London: Routledge. First published in hardback in 1996; paperback 2001 (336 pages)

Responses to controversial exhibitions in recent years have demonstrated the dissatisfaction felt by many indigenous peoples and ethnic groups at the ways in which the western museum traditionally represented their cultures and excluded them from the process of interpretation and display. Native Americans, Aboriginal Australians, and other indigenous peoples are now demanding that human remains, sacred objects and other items of cultural property be removed from display and repatriated. Drawing upon the experiences of museum staff and communities across the globe, 'Making Representations' examines the development of new forms of museological practice. The author also examines the growth of museums, cultural centres and Aboriginal Keeping Places being established by indigenous and immigrant communities as they take control of the interpretive process and challenge the traditional role of the museum. To purchase, click here.

Book Reviews:


"This was one of the first major texts to specifically address issues of contemporary politics of museums and their relationship with Indigenous peoples and diasporic minorities in the post-colonial era. It examined the establishment of community museums through which these groups control the representation of their cultures, and present historical narratives and viewpoints that counter-balance dominant cultural perspectives presented in mainstream museums. In this regard, Making Representations’ opened up a new area in museological discourse focusing on local, non-western heritage practices incorporated in the development of new museum models that challenge Western museological concepts. Christina Kreps, the author of a book entitled ‘Liberating Culture: Cross-cultural Perspectives on Museums, Curation and Heritage Preservation’ (2003) described ‘Making Representations, as ‘a ground-breaking book’. She noted that ‘the literature on the history of the museum concept is now extensive (Ames 1992, Bazin 1967, Bennett 1995, Duncan 1995, Hudson 1977, Pierce 1992, Walsh 1992) and, with rare exception (Simpson 1996), the museums western origins and modern character are generally taken for granted."

Professor Gaynor Kavanagh, described the text as … “one of the most even-handed discussions of repatriation”. She also stated that Simpson provides “A detailed understanding of the dynamics of cultural representation and self-determinism within museums provision ... a well-written and illuminating text. [The author] demonstrates a sensitive awareness of the deeper issues and strives for a careful balance within her argument. Blissfully jargon free, she offers a text which is both thought-provoking and genuinely useful to those who want to see constructive change in museums”. “This is a genuinely helpful contribution to museum thinking and should become a standard museum studies text”. Gaynor Kavanagh, Dept of Museum Studies, University of Leicester. International Journal of Heritage Studies, 3 (2), 1997.

Professor Nick Stanley, Birmingham University.  Journal of Art and Design Education 1997. “Moira Simpson’s work over the past decade has been part of the process of cultural change and fittingly is summarised in this book which acts as a testament to the breadth of her grasp and the detail of argument. …..This is a compendious book and one that will be of great interest to anyone concerned with the relationship between art and cultural development. It is also a quiet but deadly indictment of the processes of imperialism and the mixed, heroic, prosaic and stumbling efforts being made in the English-speaking world to overcome the legacy of colonialism both in Empire and internally……This is a topic that can no longer be consigned to the obscurity of professional museum studies. It is an issue that implicates us all. It is the virtue of this book that we are faced squarely with the issues laid out in brilliant exemplary clarity”.

Dr Stella Butler, Head of Collections, John Rylands Library, Manchester. "These are complex issues sensitively and sensibly handled …This is a scholarly book, tackling an extremely difficult and complex subject. It should be compulsory reading for all of us who have responsibility for collections containing non-Western material.”

Professor Peter Gathercole, Darwin Collge, Cambridge University. Journal of Museum Ethnography, 10, 1998. “This is no armchair study. During 10 months’ fieldwork Simpson interviewed, by my count, 238 people involved in these developments in Britain, the Netherlands, the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand’…......“Simpson’s overall case is incontrovertible. There must be a fundamental rethinking of the place of museums and like institutions within a new world order slowly and painfully taking shape, however uncertain its present configurations may be”.

Mary Bouquet, Tropenmuseum, Amsterdam / Utrecht University, The Netherlands. ‘Museums as Significant Sites’. Focaal, no 36, 2000: pp. 203-226.

‘Simpson has assembled a vast mass of material from around the world…the great merit of this book is to have taken on such a complex topic in such a wide-ranging manner’.