1st Edition

The Ethics of Collecting Trauma The Role of Museums in Collecting and Displaying Contemporary Crises

Edited By Alexandra Bounia, Andrea Witcomb Copyright 2025
    272 Pages 12 Color & 15 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    272 Pages 12 Color & 15 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    The Ethics of Collecting Trauma offers an interdisciplinary dialogue on the ethics of contemporary museums that are involved in collecting moments of collective trauma.

    Including a range of international contributions, the volume explores the ethics of collecting material that documents contemporary traumatic events. The case studies focus on four categories of such events: forced migration; terrorism attacks; major natural disasters; and cultural traumas, such as the ongoing legacy of colonization. Contributors consider whether cultural institutions have a right to collect materials about these events and what kind of materials they should focus on, if so; who is being memorialized, who should hold the power to decide what is collected, and what the critical timeline for such initiatives is. The volume also considers what the larger purpose of such collecting is and how to deal with past collecting practices, arguing that museums need to consider, in a careful and deliberate way, their ethical responsibilities as cultural institutions.

    The Ethics of Collecting Trauma will be of interest to academics and students working in the areas of museum and heritage studies, cultural studies, trauma studies, memory studies, and migration studies. The book will also appeal to museum professionals working around the globe.

    List of Figures

    List of Contributors



    1. Introduction: Why a book on the ethics of collecting contemporary trauma is needed     

    Andrea Witcomb and Alexandra Bounia


    Part I: Natureculture traumas


    2. The crisis that binds us: The ethics of collecting trauma in ‘catastrophic times’.

    Jennifer Carter  


    3. A Future for Memory: Resurgence of culture-nature in the aftermath of 3.11 

    Fuyubi Nakamura  


    4. Mapping memorialisation of pandemic experiences: Care, stewardship and guardianship 

    Laia Colomer and Edwin Schmitt 


    5. Towards a higher standard: Museums, communities of trauma, and the public trust

    James B. Gardner  


    Part II: Decolonising trauma


    6. Poetics, politics and ethics of collecting: Two Brazillian cases

    Claudia Porto and Mario de Souza Ghagas  


    7. Engaging with colonial collecting practices today: Practising ‘epistemic disobedience’ 

    Andrea Witcomb  


    Part III: The traumas of war, terrorism and forceful displacement


    8. Ethically contested exhumations in Eastern Zimbabwe: a compromise between spiritual approaches and scientific practices  

    Njabulo Chipangura 


    9. Silence and Remembering: Locating the Cultural Trauma of Terrorism in London’s Museums, Archives and Memorials 

     Rhiannon Mason  


    10. Ethics of care in collecting spontaneous memorials

    Kostas Arvanitis  


    11. Collecting (forced) migration: the ethics of collecting ‘neglected things’

    Alexandra Bounia


    12. Afterword

    Sally Yerkovich  




    Alexandra Bounia is Professor of Museology at the University of the Aegean, Greece.

    Andrea Witcomb is the Alfred Deakin Professor of Cultural Heritage and Museum Studies at Deakin University, Australia.