The University of Cambridge Museums are committed to ensuring that all our work, and the way we do it, is as inclusive as possible.
As University museums and collections, being true to our mission means questioning and seeking to expand our knowledge about our collections, adding new perspectives and layers of understanding.
Beginning in October 2022 and running until January 2024, we’re hosting a programme of events, displays, workshops, and community-led discussions confronting Cambridge’s colonial story. Who has the power to choose which stories we remember and tell? Where can we find acts of courage, conflict or censorship in our collections? What can museum collections reveal about the histories of empire? What does change look like today?
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Collections for Everyone: our commitment to inclusivity
Researching the collections, and sharing what we find
This includes understanding their histories in their fullest sense through our research practice, broadening the questions that we ask of our collections and the partners we work with. We make new information available for future generations of researchers through publicly accessible databases and records, and maintain a transparent approach to the return of museum objects. We share what we find through public programming, teaching, learning, exhibitions and interpretation, and online, working with creative practitioners and our communities to create work that is most relevant to them.
Collaborating with our communities is key
Collaboration is at the very heart of what we do as university museums: scholarship is at its most innovative when generated by partnership, collaboration and more active involvement from our communities, particularly communities of origin. Museum work is at its most meaningful when it reflects the needs of the communities we serve and we want to ensure it is accessible by everyone.
As is developing our workforce
This work involves all of our colleagues, and we are working to ensure that they and senior leaders are equipped through training and support to do this work; and that we are part of conversations across the cultural and Higher Education sectors nationally and internationally. Our approach to inclusive practice draws on the participation of colleagues from across our organisation and the guidance of critical friends.
Our workforce at present is not representative of our wider population. Steps to address this include providing a variety of accessible pathways into museum work and in the longer term, working with the University’s widening participation initiative and schools to support the pipeline of future researchers and museum professionals.
Our commitment and approach to this work is outlined in full in our Inclusivity & Relevance Policy, and sits within the approach of the wider University of Cambridge.
New research and community engagement is expanding our understanding of the University’s collections and their relationship with the histories, among others, of gender, sexuality and colonialism, and how they intersect with current global challenges such as racism and the climate crisis.
In particular, we are focusing on three key themes:
Society and Identity
How can collections help counter inequality, racism and political extremism?
Activity in this area is currently focused on a long-term investigation into the legacies of empire and enslavement within our organisations, and from 2022-2024 we’re sharing our findings and inviting challenge and conversation with our audiences and communities through a major public programme, Power and Memory.
The founding of our museums and growth of the collections is linked to the spread of the British Empire. We’re undertaking new research to understand the complex histories of the collections, the role museums played in colonialism, and the practices and systems of thinking that we have inherited from the colonial period. This evidence-led programme aims, long-term, to help make our spaces more inclusive, informative and welcoming.
Health and Wellbeing
How can culture and creativity transform lives? We’re exploring the roles museums can play in partnership with health and social care providers to address persistent inequalities in health.
Environment & Sustainability
Climate change is happening now: our collections reveal its historical, contemporary and future consequences. How can we inspire action to mitigate the climate crisis?
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Find out more about this work on the UCM Collections in Action Blog.