Date of Graduation

Fall 12-11-2020

Document Access

Restricted Project/Capstone - USF access only

Degree Name

Master of Arts in Museum Studies


College of Arts and Sciences


Museum Studies

First Advisor

Marjorie Schwarzer


This capstone explores the vision and necessity of reimagining museums in the United States, specifically those that were founded upon the ideologies of white supremacy and furthered the colonial agenda. These conversations are initiated through a case study of the recently renamed Museum of Us, formerly known as the San Diego Museum of Man (SDMoM). The name change on August 2, 2020, reflects the two years of community involvement in renaming the institution. Ultimately, the recent name change demonstrates the museums’ commitment to equitable change and inclusivity as it has shifted the identity of the institution from a patriarchal name, to one that is dedicated to the collective. Museum of Us is an anthropological museum based in Balboa Park whose decolonizing initiatives may guide other museums in understanding how they may implement and radically shift their entire institution. Along with a case study of the Museum of Us, other museum led initiatives such as MASS Action and Incluseum Blog are referenced to speak to how museum professionals are calling for the need to dismantle institutionalized racism, cis-heteropatriarchy, and pay inequities within the field. This topic is important because the United States, museums included, is in a position of no longer being able to go back to old ways of operating. Dismantling oppressive systems has been an ongoing battle, and will continue to be, but the hope is that these conversations will spark the needed urgency and motivation for each of us to join the movement. My vision is to work collectively to rebuild these institutions through a decolonizing and anti-racist framework to transform museums as we know them.

Although this work is a life-long commitment, what follows will be a short summary of my work and research on this topic undertaken during the Summer of 2020. In Chapter 1, I introduce the topic of the white supremacist and colonial history of U.S. museums to speak to the need for decolonizing, especially in regard to returning ancestors, cultural resources, and power to Indigenous peoples. A brief history of the Museum of Us provides an understanding of the colonial legacy that lives through the museum, and how the museum is currently working to redress its foundational history through its decolonizing initiatives and greater collaboration with the Kumeyaay Nation. In Chapter 2, I synthesize some of my research into suggested steps to take, inspired by the Museum of Us decolonizing initiatives and Colonial Pathways Policy, to layout a series of goals for decolonizing museums. This chapter also reiterates that these steps are not linear but instead are in constant conversation with each other. Chapter 2 is followed by some of the conclusions I have drawn from my initial research on decolonizing museums and how crucial it is to address and dismantle the white supremacist and colonial roots of museums. My concluding thoughts speak to the need for reimagining, for a lifetime commitment, and how I believe museums, as we know them, must be entirely restructured if they are to remain relevant and vital in the coming decades. This of course sparks several questions and maybe confusing to consider, especially since many of us have fallen in love with museums as they are now. However, I believe that it is for the well-being of the collective to envision and build an institution that is no longer founded upon the ideologies of colonialism and white supremacy. I have created in Appendix A an annotated bibliography that consists of both written sources and Appendix B with works cited. I’ve also included Appendix C, the Museum of Us Colonial Pathways Policy, a downloadable PDF that is available to the public on the museum website.

My hope is that this capstone will spark conversation and invite us all into the realm of reimagining museums. However, the hope isn’t to just push in a direction of imagination, but also a journey that is rooted in conversation, learning, accountability, shifting of power dynamics, truly listening to the needs of all communities, and ultimately taking-action.

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