Reclaiming the narrative: How UBC students are helping decolonize MOA’s African collections

Research Excellence | Strategy 8: Student Research
Theme: Collaboration
Students from the first cohort of the DAC-MOA project discuss their research objects in class | Photo credit: Paul H. Joseph/UBC Brand & Marketing

UBC’s Museum of Anthropology (MOA) boasts over 5,000 objects from Africa. However, many of these objects arrived at MOA without historical and cultural context, resulting in inaccurate and incomplete descriptions in the museum’s displays and online catalogue.

Beginning in 2019, a group of UBC students had the opportunity to change that. The Decolonizing the African Collections and Displays at MOA (DAC-MOA) project was formed by Arts student Njamba Koffi (Africa Awareness Initiative), Savannah Sutherland (Black Students Union), Adam Rudder (Hogan’s Alley Society), UBC History professor Dr. David Morton, and MOA curator Dr. Nuno Porto and funded by the UBC Program for Undergraduate Research Experience. The two-year project employed and trained 32 students with a background in African Studies to research and update the descriptions of approximately 1,000 objects. The students researched where these objects originated from, what languages were used to describe them, their cultural importance, and present-day contexts.

The Faculty of Arts team interviewed three Arts participants to learn about the objects they researched and the discoveries they made, the importance of connecting with local knowledge holders, and the many lessons they are taking away from this impactful project. Please read the full story on the Faculty of Arts website.

Through Strategy 8: Student Research, UBC is expanding opportunities for undergraduates to gain first-hand experience in research and is strengthening research experiences for graduate students and postdoctoral fellows.