Reanimating Cultural Heritage

Reanimating Cultural Heritage

Digital Repatriation, Knowledge Networks and Civil Society Strengthening in Post-Conflict Sierra Leone

Screenshot of the SierraLeoneHeritage.org digital resource being created as part of the Reanimating Cultural Heritage project

The ability of material culture to open horizons of knowledge and imagination beyond that transmitted through text is fundamental to contemporary museum practice. Interactive digital technologies, especially, provide new opportunities for reanimating ethnographic collections in exhibition and outreach contexts, in the field of museum and source community relations, and as a means of generating and connecting diverse knowledge networks around objects.

Such technological developments necessitate a radical rethinking of what ethnographic museums and their collections are and do in the digital age. This multidisciplinary project is concerned with innovating 'digital curatorship' in relation to Sierra Leonean collections dispersed in the global museumscape. Extending research in anthropology, museum studies, informatics and beyond, the project considers how objects that have become isolated from the oral and performative contexts that originally animated them can be reanimated in digital space alongside associated images, video clips, sounds, texts and other media, and thereby given new life.

Alongside museum partners and collaborating institutions in the UK and Sierra Leone, a digital heritage resource is being created that utilizes social networking technologies to reconnect objects with disparate communities and foster reciprocal knowledge exchange across boundaries. Whereas the practice of 'digital repatriation' has become increasingly popular with museums, the reception of such initiatives by source communities has not been critically assessed. Thus, a crucial part of the project is to employ innovative participatory methods to pilot and evaluate the digital resource in Sierra Leone.

As well as its impact in Sierra Leone, the research will inform museum policy-making more widely, exemplify how museums can play a role in strengthening international relations, and provide a platform for future research and capacity building initiatives.

The digital resource was developed in collaboration with the School of Informatics at the University of Sussex and was launched in 2012.

Related outputs

  • Sowei Mask: Spirit of Sierra Leone, British Museum Exhibition 14 February-28 April 2013. Read more»
  • Reanimating Cultural Heritage UCL Exhibition 9 January-17 February 2012. Read more»
  • Basu, P. 'Reanimating Cultural Heritage: Digital Curatorship, Knowledge Networks and Social Transformation in Sierra Leone' in A. Coombes & R. Phillips (eds), Museum Transformations, Oxford: Blackwell (International Handbooks of Museum Studies series), forthcoming 2013.
  • Basu, P. 2011. ‘Object Diasporas, Resourcing Communities: Sierra Leonean Collections in the Global Museumscape’, Museum Anthropology 34(1): 28-42.

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Research Impact


  • The Reanimating Cultural Heritage project is funded by an AHRC Beyond Text Programme Large Grant.

Project Leader:

Project Partners:

  • British Museum
  • Glasgow Museums
  • Brighton Museum & Art Gallery
  • World Museum Liverpool
  • Sierra Leone National Museum
  • University of Sussex


Further information:

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