Published on November 16th, 2020 | by Elsa Panciroli
Episode 117: Decolonising Palaeontology
Lack of diversity is one of the major issues in the sciences in recent times. We’ve discussed diversity in palaeontology in previous podcasts, but in this episode Elsa Panciroli takes a look at the legacy of racism and colonialism in palaeontology and museum collections, and what efforts are being made to address these issues.
Colonial attitudes towards people of non-European descent have meant that their natural heritage was often plundered and sent back to Europe and the United States to fill museum shelves. Researchers continue to benefit from these resources. How should we change our scientific practice to recognise this legacy and avoid making the same mistakes now and in the future?
In the first part of the episode, Elsa speaks to Christa Kuljian, a historian of science and author of Darwin’s Hunch: Science, Race and the Search for Human Origins, based at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. She’ll examine the legacy of racism in science, focusing on palaeoanthropology in South Africa, including figures like Robert Broom and Raymond Dart. We’ll hear how attitudes toward the concept of race shaped the research and conclusions of past generations of scientists.
In the second part, Rob Theodore, Exhibitions and Displays Coordinator at the Sedgewick Museum in England, talks about the legacy of colonialism in museum collections. We’ll find out about the ways in which specimens were collected in the past, and how this was related to contemporary events and attitudes. We’ll also find out what moves being taken to decolonise museums and refocus public outreach to recognise the past and move positively into the future.