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Centre for Creative Ethnography

Briony Widdis

Briony Widdis

I am a social anthropologist working on histories of imperialism and colonialism in Ireland and Northern Ireland, specialising in material culture and archives, their meanings to people, and their significance in society today. I am especially interested in the complexities of identifying and exploring private connections to colonialism and anti-colonialism, and in how these are manifested in the home in the form of photographs, film, letters and other documents, and objects. These interests stem from twenty years’ practice as a museum and heritage professional, including as a curator of Indigenous African, Oceanic and American collections at National Museums Scotland, and working for public bodies in Northern Ireland including the Northern Ireland Museums Council and Belfast City Council.

My current research, MENII Memories, MENII Voices (MMMV), is a partnership between Queen’s University Belfast, the leading intercultural arts charity, ArtsEkta, and the Irish Museums Association. MMMV is engaging with communities and the heritage sector in Northern Ireland and Ireland to explore how colonial and imperial histories relate to contemporary society. The project sets out to promote understanding of intersecting themes of shared futures, diversity, and the decolonisation of heritage, and to foster respect for diverse perspectives.

MMMV builds on my previous ESRC-funded research, Museums, Empire and Northern Ireland Identity (MENII). MENII developed techniques for structured participant autoethnography to facilitate reflections on the complex topics of empire, colonialism, and their afterlives in Northern Irish identity. MMMV will develop the professional, societal and community impact of this ethnographic research method, which we are calling “PEACE” (Participant auto-Ethnography Around Colonialism and Empire).

Through collaboration with ArtsEkta, MMMV is creating a community heritage website exploring Northern Ireland’s entanglement with global histories of colonialism and imperialism. We are also developing a programme of community activities to explore the potential of the PEACE approach outside a research setting, through sharing personal stories of objects, creative arts, an exhibition, and best practice conversations with heritage and community partners. Working with the IMA, MMMV will disseminate the PEACE approach and other learning and best practice through a sector activity programme, which will also lay groundwork for further engaged research involving policy makers and sector leaders in the future. It is funded by an Impact Accelerator Account grants from the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).