Course Syllabus

Museums & Indigenous People: History and Decolonization

Wednesdays 10:30-1:30, meets ONLINE, generally for 90 min or so
Professor: Dr. Katie Bunn-Marcuse (pronouns: she, her, hers)  
Office: Online                                                             
Email: (Canvas Inbox email is suggested for class communications)
Office Hours: any other day by video chat appointment


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Land Acknowledgment:  I would like to acknowledge that I live and work in Salish territory, specifically the lands of the Suquamish and Duwamish and the shared lands and waters of the Tulalip and Muckleshoot. There is a long history of education on this land dating to long before the establishment of this university. I encourage the University to promote respect for and engagement with Indigenous ways of knowing tied to the lands and people of this region. I encourage everyone to learn about and amplify the contemporary work of the Indigenous nations whose land you are on and to endeavor to support Indigenous sovereignty in all the ways that you can.

COVID-19 Changes
This class was originally planned to have numerous field trips to local museums. I will be changing up the posted syllabus to accommodate all of us staying at home. This is my first time teaching entirely online and so consider the syllabus tentative and subject to change to fit what works best for our group.  Your suggestions and feedback are critical, so send them along anytime so we can make adjustments.

Course Description

Museums are powerful institutions that shape the public’s understanding of history and culture. Museums are complicated institutions with both the capacity to contribute meaningfully to our understandings of and respect for the world and for one another, but also with a history and ongoing patterns of great harm and colonial violence. This course confronts the colonial legacies of museums while exploring the intersection of museum practice and social justice through movements to decolonize and Indigenize museums. This museum study course is based on examining the changing relationship between Indigenous people and museums and the current state of contemporary museum practice, focusing on examples grounded in Native American and First Nations in the US and Canada. The central questions we will consider include:  How has the relationship between Indigenous people and museums changed over the last century and what are the key watershed moments and developments in the field? What are the predominant themes and narratives, objects and images in exhibitions focusing on Indigenous history and culture?  How have Indigenous communities challenged the rights of museums to house their material culture and human remains, and engaged in efforts to decolonize museums? What are the future directions in contemporary museum practice? Topics will include “salvage anthropology” and the collecting of Native American and First Nations material culture in the early 20th century; historic and contemporary exhibition practices; the ethics of curatorial practice, Indigenous activism and the federal repatriation law; collaboration with source communities, and equity and inclusivity with regard to representation within museums.




  1. Class Attendance & Participation

We are building this learning community together and a key element of co-creating a shared learning environment is a commitment to active participation in class. The expectation is that you arrive to class having completed all reading assignments and are prepared to engage in discussion. Your grade for this portion of the class is based on: arriving on-time and staying actively engaged for the entire class, active listening and attentiveness to your peers, having access to your notes and questions that arose when you completed your assigned reading, and respect (including not talking while others are speaking, and making space for everyone in the class to contribute ideas). If you have a busy quarter and cannot commit to consistent, full participation in this class, then this is not the class for you. Purpose of this assignment: Our learning potential as a class is enhanced by bringing diverse thinking and ideas into conversations. If we only have a few participants each day then our opportunities to explore an array of perspectives becomes limited. In this regard, you have a responsibility to the education of everyone in the class, not just to your own. Furthermore, if we do not take our examination of decolonization seriously then we are contributing to the Academy’s failure to address silences and their impacts.

We meet once a week on campus or at local museums (by public transit) and attendance in all class sessions is mandatory. Part of your participation grade will come from timely participation in each week’s discussion board on Canvas.


Course Objectives:

  1. Understand how our current moment is part of the longer history connecting past to present to future with awareness of our responsibilities across these generations
  2. Examine how Indigenous artists have shaped the recorded history through their creations in various media
  3. Recognize that histories recorded in artistic creations belong to the communities from which they come and how Indigenous artists, scholars, and communities are the experts on their own histories
  4. Discuss how scholarship and museum practice have obligations to Indigenous communities and must respect these ethical tenets
  5. Critique the relationship between things from our past and their interpretation.
  6. Learn about the ethics and best practices with regard to decolonizing museums and how they grow out of or reject previous museological and collection practices
  7. Become familiar with key scholars, curators, activists, community leaders and advocates practicing within the field of progressive museology and decolonizing museums
  8. Develop and strengthen analytic skills with regard to questions of power that are inherent within museums

Student Courtesy:

I value the perspectives of all students in my class and I look forward to the dynamic discussions we will have throughout the semester.  Be advised that we may cover material that challenges your viewpoints or beliefs.  I ask that students be respectful toward each other in the classroom to foster a comfortable space in which all students feel free to share their perspectives throughout the semester.



School Policies



Course Summary:

Date Details Due