1st Edition

Curating Human Rights Displaying, Combating and Obscuring Human Rights Violations in Museums

By Robin Ostow Copyright 2025
    232 Pages 25 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    Curating Human Rights conceptualizes the human rights museum as a dynamic cultural-political genre that interacts with multiple social activist, state and corporate stakeholders.

    Drawing upon ethnographic and archival research on seven human rights museums in six countries, Ostow examines specifically what these museums do when they set out, or purport, to promote human rights. This includes the stories they visualize, display strategies, educational and other activities, internal structures, the way they position their visitors, the parameters of the human rights they address and the politics of pleasing their multiple stakeholders. The book also explores the contradictions and political and corporate pressure that contributes to foregrounding some human rights violations and ignoring or obscuring others. Ostow also examines the reactions to each museum in the local and national press, and by local visitors, politicians, donors and other stakeholders. The book ends with a discussion of the success and limitations of museums for promoting human rights, and policy recommendations to enhance their effectiveness. Curating Human Rights considers whether these museums are appropriate for, and effective at, promoting human rights - and if they address the pitfalls that have been identified.

    Curating Human Rights provides new perspectives on the field of human rights education and activism and will be of interest to academics and students engaged in the study of museums, human rights, culture and communication.

    1. Introduction: human rights and the museums that display them; 2. Displaying the transatlantic slave trade: from cultural nationalism to universal human rights on the West Coast of Africa. The Maison des Esclaves, Gorée Island, Senegal 1966-2023; 3. Reimagining citizenship and human rights in a museum of land restitution: District Six Museum, Cape Town, South Africa; 4. The Museum as a laboratory for a human rights-based future: The International Slavery Museum, Liverpool, UK; 5. From containing memories of past violence to supporting a human rights-based revolution: The Museo de la Memoria y los Derechos Humanos, Santiago, Chile: 2006 – 2023; 6. Corporate citizenship and musealizing human rights: Coca-Cola and the Center for Civil and Human Rights, Atlanta, Georgia, US; 7. Decolonization and Musealizing Human Rights on the Canadian Prairie: The Canadian Museum for Human Rights and The Museum for Canadian Human Rights Violations 2003 – 2023; 8. Human Rights Museums: Their contributions and achievements in promoting human rights. Their limitations and their challenges in the coming years


    Robin Ostow is affiliated with the Sociology Department at Wilfrid Laurier University, in Ontario, Canada. She has published extensively on national museums, Jewish museums, immigration museums and human rights museums in Europe, the Americas and Australia. Most recently, her work has focused on these museums’ displays and their relations with the communities around them.