Museums and multicultural societies: challenging decolonial heritage didactics at the National Ethnology Museum (Lisbon) and the National Historical Museum (Rio de Janeiro)

The ECHOES Project focuses on the history of colonialism to collectively reshape and give voice to merged colonial memories and multicultural expressions. These memories and expressions are at the heart of contemporary heritage debates, within and beyond Europe. In this context, researchers from Work Page 4 Entagled Cities have been analysing the way cultural traces and identities related to musealised heritage from the African presence are being managed by the National Historical Museum in Rio (Brazil) and National Museum of Ethnology in Lisbon (Portugal). Both museums have collections related to colonial history and an African presence in their respective cities. These collections can tell us about the dissonant dimensions of this history, in order for society to understand the origins of multi-ethnic identities, the hybrid dimension of these cultures, and a multiplicity of forms of inhabiting space, without denying the rich diversity of cultural roots. In this light, both museums are using different understandings of concepts of multiculturality to work with their collections to develop their educational programs and pedagogical tools.

This study has viewed the museum as a “culturemaker”.  Not only does a museum act as a key element in the interpretation and collective uses of these cultural heritages, but it is also a powerful educational space to inclusively manage identity conflicts, seek consensus, and build democracy. Given this preface, the following research questions have guided this study’s path: How and by whom are these collections being de-codified, interpreted, and communicated? Have these heritages been repressed, removed, and reframed? Or are they re-emerging with a renewed and powerful role in current societies, so that they can be key elements for empowering subaltern memories? Are these museums helping to erase ethnic, racial, or cultural stereotypes and their multiplicities of sociocultural violence?

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