As museums have started to decolonize their work, and work closely with Indigenous and immigrant communities, Denise brings her experience as a community curator and heritage researcher to attemp to rethink, reframe and represent curatorial frameworks and processes to contribute to reconciliation. 

Research Description

In a collective movement towards decolonization, many museums have begun to work collaboratively with Indigenous and immigrant communities to decentre Eurocentric national narratives. While these initiatives strengthen the relevance of heritage organizations with their target audiences, they may not always respond to the present day concerns and needs of their source communities (i.e., those communities that museums represent through their exhibitions and collections). How then can museums that represent immigrant community experiences offer spaces where transformative learning can take place? In this comparative study, I analyze museum exhibitions from several local museums and a virtual museum in British Columbia. While many scholars have studied representation and decolonizing museum practices through working directly with Indigenous communities, few have explored how curatorial frameworks and processes need to be reframed for immigrant communities to participate in reconciliation efforts with Indigenous communities. Drawing from my work as a community curator and heritage researcher, my research investigates Asian Canadian representations and museum curatorial processes in the context of reconciliation.

What does being a Public Scholar mean to you?

Being a Public Scholar means prioritizing community needs and developing a body of knowledge and best practices that can potentially impact how public institutions work with and support community groups. Public scholarship should be driven first and foremost by a community need and seek ways to build long-lasting reciprocal relationships through the sharing of resources and supporting community growth.

In what ways do you think the PhD experience can be re-imagined with the Public Scholars Initiative?

One of my early learning experiences during my Ph.D. program was developing a class presentation with students in my Interdisciplinary Studies cohort. We all came from different academic disciplines and getting on the same page about developing the course assignment proved to be a challenge due to our diverse backgrounds. I anticipate that the PSI will better equip us to work with others across disciplines, and open doors to learn from and collaborate with other like-minded UBC Public Scholars passionate about community engaged research. I believe that the PSI experience will provide valuable opportunities to break barriers between disciplines, and help young scholars like us think outside the box about future career pathways.

How do you envision connecting your PhD work with broader career possibilities?

I envision taking my research and educational training from UBC and contributing it to places such as local non-profits and heritage institutions where academic research can help advance the professional practice of organizations seeking to decolonize the heritage field. Working in the public sphere also provides valuable opportunities for student training, and I hope to continue to support and foster some of these new and ongoing collaborative partnerships in the future.

How does your research engage with the larger community and social partners?

My research work in the heritage and public education involves working with civic institutions, school teachers and heritage organizations to research and co-develop curriculum resources, documentary films and museum exhibitions to increase Asian Canadian representation and raise awareness about historical injustices against immigrant communities. These project opportunities have opened doors to reach diverse audiences – including K-12 students and the general public, as well as opportunities to build working relationships with heritage professionals and interactive designers through collaborative public history projects.

How do you hope your work can make a contribution to the “public good”?

I hope that my research work will help advance the work of Canadian museums and cultural heritage organizations by helping to draw attention to previously underrepresented immigrant voices through the co-development of public educational resources and capacity building opportunities for the next generation of heritage professionals. I also hope that the academic training and technical skills that I develop through my research will become a useful tool for supporting local community groups with their resource needs and strategic growth.

Why did you decide to pursue a graduate degree?

Before pursuing my PhD, I worked as a project manager for several government funded public history education initiatives. I was initially intrigued by the many exciting research opportunities led by local and overseas heritage organizations, but over time, I also began to recognize the challenges that many organizations faced in documenting and publicizing cultural heritage knowledge and practices. These observations inspired me to pursue a PhD to take a deeper look at the systemic barriers that underlie community led cultural heritage initiatives.

Why did you choose to come to British Columbia and study at UBC?

British Columbia has a long history of Asian and other trans-Pacific migrations, and yet for many years, the histories of Asian immigrant and Indigenous communities have been underrepresented in curriculum materials, museums and heritage sites. The opportunity to work with like-minded community-based scholars, community leaders, heritage professionals and students makes UBC Vancouver the ideal space for pursuing my research.