Season 2, Episode 1: Revival and Reckoning: A Colonial Museum in Postcolonial Italy

Colonial museums are tangible representations of the unequal relationships between people, communities, and nations. What can a museum tell us about Italy and its former African colonies?

This year marks the opening of Il Museo Italo Africano, “Ilaria Alpi” or the Iliaria Alpi Italo-African Museum in Rome, Italy. A revival of the former Italian Colonial museum (1923-1971), it has been renamed for its present-day reinstallation. Colonial museums and their collections are tangible representations of the historic and unequal relationships between people, communities, and nations. What does this particular museum and its collection tell us about Italy and its former African colonies? 

Timnet Gedar traces the history of this museum’s collection, including “human zoos,” in Italy and the looting of north and east African nations. This context demonstrates the role of museums in the colonial project and the power of knowledge production, raising questions about the implications of this history for the contemporary reopening of the museum. She asks us to consider the current Mediterranean migration crisis as a reflection of the ongoing, uneven power relations between Italy and its former African colonies and how past and present are linked, even in (or especially in) museums and their collections.

View the full episode transcript and sources.

Historian Biographies

Timnet Gedar is a PhD candidate in the History Department at the University of Michigan. She holds a graduate certificate in Museum Studies, a graduate certificate in African Studies from the Department of Afro American and African Studies (DAAS), and an MSc in Social Development Practice from the University College London. She is currently a fellow in the Rackham-Mellon Program in Engagement in the Humanities. 

Production Credits

Episode Producer: Timnet Gedar

Episode Contributors: Emma Bond, Medhin Paolos 

Voice Actor: Giordano Mormone

Host and Season Producer: Hayley Bowman 

Executive Producer: Gregory Parker

Editorial Board: Hayley Bowman, Gregory Parker, Taylor Sims, Melanie S. Tanielian

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