Colonial Objects in Northern Ireland

  • Briony Widdis

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


In 2015 I inherited objects and documents from the latter days of colonial Hong Kong (1931-1961). Given that they derive from the late colonial period, and furthermore from a multicultural urban society, the thesis began with a central question: are these artefacts “colonial”, and if so, why? By devising a new framework, the thesis aims to broaden understanding of what defines the “colonial object”. This Framework contests as artificial, dominant museological distinctions between the objects of Western and non-Western countries. With reference to Saidian discourse, the thesis furthermore exposes, and attempts to address, how colonial objects can function in the constitution of identities through a binary opposition: Us-ness, reflecting the identity of the viewer, and Otherness, reflecting a projection onto the viewed. Chapters adopt an exhibition format, with specific objects being examined in depth. The contributions to knowledge of the thesis are that it is an extended autoethnographic study of “colonial objects” of which no previous examples have been found; that it provides a way of integrating the study of private and public collections of such objects (the Colonial Objects Framework); and that it investigates particular collections and objects in depth. The thesis concludes by recommending an extended usage of the term “colonial object”; by emphasising the importance of autoethnography within museum practice; and by arguing that Northern Ireland’s ethnographic collections provide important evidence about its past in the British Empire, can be part of projects to build a shared society, and require fuller research.

Date of AwardApr 2020
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorElizabeth Crooke (Supervisor) & Tom Maguire (Supervisor)


  • Autoethnography
  • Northern Ireland
  • Collections, Colonial Object
  • Museum Ethnography
  • Us-ness
  • Museology
  • Colonial Objects Framework
  • Otherness
  • Family

Cite this