Decolonising the Database

5 July 2021, 15.00-17.00 (Online, MS Teams)
Centre for Design History

The Centre for Design History would like to invite you to join us for an event organised by members, Helen Mears and Kajal Meghani. This online event is free and open to all. Please use the booking link below to receive the MS Teams meeting link.


Mike Jones observes that “[r]ecent decades have seen significant moves away from the idea of the authoritative institution toward relational museums and the co-creation of knowledge. But the structure and content of much museum documentation continues to lag behind contemporary attitudes” (2019: 884). This observation holds true of the UK museum sector where drives to ‘diversify’ and ‘decolonise’ museum practice are only just beginning to be reflected in the core work of museum cataloguing.

This session provides an opportunity to hear from researchers and practitioners working ‘against the grain’ of the colonial and imperial knowledge frameworks embedded in museum documentation systems to develop more reflexive, multivocal and relational accounts. Through a series of short presentations and panel discussion, speakers will discuss their current practice/research, as well as some of the challenges and opportunities encountered.

Speakers include:
Kathleen Lawther (freelance curator and collections consultant)
Shelley Angelie Saggar (CHASE funded PhD researcher and museum worker)
Hannah Turner (Assistant Professor, University of British Columbia School of Information)
Ananda Rutherford (Research Associate, Provisional Semantics, Tate)

Anjalie Dalal-Clayton (Research Fellow, Decolonising Arts Institute, UAL) will open the event.
Kelly Foster (public historian and founding member of AfroCROWD UK and TRANSMISSION) will take the role of respondent.


Contributor Biographies:

Anjalie Dalal-Clayton (Event Chair) is an art historian, focussing on work by British artists with African and Asian heritage. She is a research fellow at University of the Arts London’s Decolonising Arts Institute, where she is working on multiple projects that address collecting, display and interpretation practices in public art museums.

Kelly Foster (respondent) is a public historian, researcher, and open knowledge advocate.
She is the chapter lead for Creative Commons UK and trustee of Wikimedia UK. Kelly has worked with community/independent archives in London for over 15 years and is a founding member of TRANSMISSION, a collective of archivists and historians of African descent. Her work focuses on issues including knowledge equity, linked data, and anti-colonial and Black liberation movements in the UK. Currently, Kelly is a Knowledge Equity associate at TrAIN Research Centre, UAL.

Kathleen Lawther (Speaker) is a freelance curator specialising in the documentation of museum collections. For the past ten years she was worked with a diverse range of collections, including social history, costume, fine art, and ethnographic collections, in museums of all sizes. Kathleen became especially interested in what is, and what is not, recorded about museum objects, and the ways in which improving documentation practice can feed into work to democratise and decolonise our museums. Kathleen’s work with museums includes documenting new acquisitions made for the Fashioning Africa contemporary collecting project at Brighton Museum, and (re)cataloguing collections from Southern Africa as part of the AHRC funded project Making African Connections, led by the University of Sussex. She is a steering group member for Museum as Muck, the network for working class museum people, and blogs at

Shelley Angelie Saggar (Speaker) is a CHASE funded PhD researcher and museum worker based in the School of English at the University of Kent. Her project examines representations of the museum in Indigenous literature and film from North America and Aotearoa/New Zealand, asking how methods drawn from Indigenous literary studies can contribute to decolonial heritage practices both within and beyond the museum. She also works as a researcher at the Science Museum, where her work focuses on culturally sensitive items in the Wellcome Historical Medical Museum collection. She is the founder of The Decolonial Dictionary, a project aimed at unpacking postcolonial theory and examining problematic terminology in heritage spaces.

Hannah Turner (Speaker) is an Assistant Professor in the School of Information at the University of British Columbia, where she researches and teaches on systems of classification and categorization in ethnographic collections. From 2018-2019, she was a Lecturer in Museum Studies at the University of Leicester.

Ananda Rutherford (Speaker) is a researcher and a museum collection management specialist. In the process of completing a doctorate at UCL’s Centre for Digital Humanities, her research focuses on the relationship between cultural heritage digitisation and traditional documentation practices. She is currently employed as Research Associate on the TaNC Foundation project, Provisional Semantics, based at Tate. The project explores issues around structural racism and potential decolonisation in museum cataloguing and object description, attempting to address the barriers that prevent embedded and sustainable change. Formerly Assistant Keeper at the Museum of the Home, Ananda has worked with a number of significant collections including the Ashmolean, V&A, Crafts Council and Sir John Soane’s Museum and has a background in art history and the decorative arts.



This online event is free and open to all. BOOK HERE:


Image credit: Stuart Caie, licensed for use under creative commons