Re-Imagining the Human: exploring best practice in object-based learning at the ethnographic museum

Summary of the Project


We are delighted to announce that ICOM awarded 2018 special project funding to our International Committee to conduct a workshop entitled Re-Imagining the Human: exploring best practice in object-based learning at the ethnographic museum’. The ICOM National Committees in Croatia, Germany, Norway, and Pakistan are our partners on the project, which features a two-day conference and workshop on 28 and 29 November 2018 at the Horniman Museum and Gardens in London.

Horniman Clocktower, Sophia Spring

Horniman Clocktower, Sophia Spring





The workshop will explore how object-based learning in the context of ethnographic collections can move beyond established notions of ‘Self’ and ‘Other’.  Horniman Museum in London is an ideal venue to examine this theme, as in June 2018 a new World Gallery of anthropology opens to the public, celebrating human creativity, imagination and adaptability, informed by a humanist anthropology. Humanist anthropology starts from the experience of human actors, addressing what it means to be human and to live a human life.  In ethnographic museums it supports and imagines ways of public engagement and education and it promotes activism.  


Central to this workshop is object-based learning, a central concern for ICME members and which the Horniman has developed a strong programme and reputation for. Object based learning sessions at ethnographic museums can draw strongly on people’s ability to employ all their available senses to enquire, deduce and draw conclusions as to what something is and its potential meanings and significance.  ICME finds that all audiences can use a huge un-tapped bank of knowledge and past experiences relating to all their senses to understand what may initially be unfamiliar objects. Through combining object handling with other techniques including questioning, mindfulness or creative responses, individuals’ ideas, curiosity and evidence for understanding can be drawn out. Objects inspire curiosity and lead people to explore what is important and interesting to them as individuals.  They open up conversations and social interactions, trigger long-forgotten memories and get creative thoughts flowing.


ICME are interested in the development and sharing of object-based learning practice both within the museum sector and with diverse audiences and communities.  The workshop will address among others the following questions: How can:


  • we draw on ethnographic collections to examine established notions of ‘Self’ and ‘Other’?
  • dialogical exchange and multisensory engagement triggered by objects encourage critical reflections on ‘controversial’ issues entangled with ethnographic collections (‘primitivism’, eurocentrism, colonial legacies such as racism and sexism)? 
  • imaginative engagement with objects  (through poetry, drama, dance storytelling, music etc.) help to challenge stereotypes and to promote intercultural understanding? 
  • object-based learning sustain the development of community collaboration and ownership?


We very much hope you may join us at the workshop in London. Meanwhile we will keep you informed of our progress via the website, facebook, yahoo-list and subsequent Newsletters.