Content to consider: Exploring gender bias in colonial collections

Gibson, Laura Kate
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King's College London
[still need] “Truths are illusions about which one has forgotten that this is what they are.” Friedrich Nietzsche, “On truth and lie in an extra-moral sense” (Nietzsche, 46) Digitisation of cultural heritage collections in and by libraries, archives and museums is never a neutral process. The decisions we make today about what to digitise from our collections are inextricably influenced by past decisions made about which items should even be included in our collections. These selection processes reflect and perpetuate the worldviews of those people making these decisions as well, as power balances, or imbalances, prevalent at that time. In much of Africa, and elsewhere, European colonialism exerted a profound influence over collecting institutions and continues to affect how they operate today. The aim of this paper is to demonstrate that the selection process and decisions made by institutions were not inevitable and that, very often, collections are imbued with various biases. If we are to avoid replicating and reinforcing these normalised biases, we must first be aware of how and why value judgements were made. Using gender imbalance in collections as an example, I suggest that exposing and interrogating biases during the planning stage of a digitisation project can be a very rewarding process that not only reveals “gaps” in a collection, but creates spaces for other voices to be heard.