DLDG - Week 4: Colonial Realism: objects and statues, subjects and torts

Event date
15 May 2024
Event time
12:00 - 13:30
Oxford week
TT 4
Faculty of Law - Seminar Room D


Colonial Realism: objects and statues, subjects and torts


Is the work of restitution in Euro-American museums a necessary acknowledgement of past imperialist injustice, or just another claim to White innocence? This talk seeks to widen the frame conventionally applied to the question of returning stolen items in museum collections, and to reconsider connections with statues in the streets, knowledge in academic disciplines, and the ongoing work of abolitionism, emancipation and anti-racism in legacy colonial institutions from museums to universities.  In doing so the talk examines how ideas of 'culture' were put to work for the purposes of supremacy in the later Victorian era, and how we might address those unfinished histories in the present: taking stock of the lines that run between ''fabulation' and 'realism'. From the framing of subjecthood and objecthood in anthropology, archaeology, art and museums, the talk considers current debates over the harm or hurt that can be caused by legacy colonialism in a range of forms, from material structures and things to structures of thought and knowledge. The paper will conclude by asking whether, and how, these harms might be understood through legal definitions of torts.


Dan Hicks is Professor of Contemporary Archaeology at the University of Oxford, Curator of World Archaeology at Pitt Rivers Museum, and a Fellow of St Cross College, Oxford. He has published widely on material and visual culture from the recent past and the near present. His most recent books are The Brutish Museums (Pluto Press 2020), Lande: the Calais 'Jungle' and Beyond (with Sarah Mallet, Bristol University Press 2019), Archaeology and Photography (edited with Lesley McFadyen, Bloomsbury 2019) and Isle of Rust (with Alex Boyd and Jonathan Meades, Luath Press 2019). His next book, Every Monument Will Fall, will be published in 2025. Twitter: @ProfDanHicks website: www.danhicks.uk

Suggested Readings

  • Dan Hicks 2020. The Brutish Museums: the Benin Bronzes, colonial violence and cultural restitution. London: Pluto Press.
  • Dan Hicks 2020. The UK government is trying to draw museums into a fake culture war. The Guardianhttps://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/oct/15/the-uk-government-is-trying-to-draw-museums-into-a-fake-culture-war
  • Dan Hicks 2021. Let’s Keep Colston Falling. Art Review. https://artreview.com/lets-keep-colston-falling/
  • Dan Hicks 2021. Glorious Memory. In H. Carr and S. Lipscombe (eds) What is History Now? London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson., pp. 114-128.
  • Dan Hicks 2021. Necrography: Death-Writing in the Colonial Museum. Journal of British Art Studies 19. https://doi.org/10.17658/issn.2058-5462/issue-19/conversation 
  • Dan Hicks 2022. Can we imagine public art beyond ‘toxic monumentality’? Art Review. https://artreview.com/can-we-imagine-public-art-beyond-toxic-monumentality/
  • Dan Hicks 2023. Declining Whiteness. In Onyekachi Wambu (ed.) Empire Windrush: Reflections on 75 Years & More of the Black British Experience. London: Hachette.
  • Dan Hicks 2023. Are Museums Obsolete? Architectural Review https://www.architectural-review.com/essays/are-museums-obsolete
  • Hartman, Saidiya 1997. Scenes of Subjection: Terror, Slavery, and Self-Making in Nineteenth-Century America. Oxford: OUP.
  • Hartman, Saidiya 2008. Venus in Two Acts. Small Axe, vol. 12(2): 1-14.
  • Hall, S. 1999. Unsettling ‘the heritage’, re-imagining the post-nation. Whose heritage?, Third Text 13(49): 3-13.
  • Mbembe, Achille 2024. Brutalism: theory in forms. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
  • Mirzoeff, Nicholas. 2023. White Sight. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
  • Richards, T. 1993. The Imperial Archive: knowledge and the fantasy of Empire. London: Verso.
  • Rothberg, Michael 2019. The Implicated Subject: beyond victims and perpetrators. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
  • Sharpe, C. 2023. Ordinary Notes. London: Daunt
  • Wynter, S. 1994. ‘No Humans Involved’: an Open Letter to My Colleagues. Forum NHL 1(1): 42–71.

Found within

Human Rights Law