University of Wyoming (UW) College of Law Professor Darrell Jackson, UW Art Museum Director Nicole Crawford and former UW law student have co-written a book chapter focusing on race theory.
The book, Critical Race Theory in the Academy explores the effects of race and culture on the overall American society. It was written by Vernon and Evelyn Farmer. Jackson, Crawford and Hartzel's chapter is titled "Stealing Culture: The Internationalization of Critical Race Theory Through the Intersection of Criminal Law and Museum Studies".
Jackson said Critical Race Theory is legal theory from the 1980s.
"[It's] usually attributed to a professor named Derrick Bell, which suggests that most - if not - all laws, have a significant, if not a majority, grounding in racial implications," said Jackson.
The chapter sheds light on the significance that art and artifacts play in shaping the overall cultural narrative and diverse identities, and the impact and responsibility museums carry in their roles, directly or indirectly, for removing these artifacts from their native communities.
"I think from the museum side," said Crawford, "museums are the keepers of culture. And when we go to museums and we see these displays and exhibitions, [...] we think that's how that culture is. But it really isn't. It's basically a collector's view."
Oftentimes, a certain culture isn't approached or being asked on how the displays and exhibitions should look. But in the last year, that's changed.
"Museums are starting to talk to the people whose objects are in the museum," said Crawford. "We're calling it decolonization and giving a voice to the objects from the indigenous people that they're from. But in the past, it had been interpreted by basically the colonizers or the white male interpretation."
Jackson and Crawford saw this opportunity to show that this problem is not only in their fields.
"It's not just about law, it's not just about museums," said Crawford. "This is truly an interdisciplinary subject that affects all types of different disciplines."
This discussion started back in 2017, when Jackson and Crawford first met while participating in an UW program in Scotland.
Additionally, the research continues to delve into the criminal and cultural obstacles when dealing with objects that have doubtful provenance.
"Very rarely is it [Critical Race Theory] written about in the way that's crossing lines, [...] crossing boundaries," said Jackson. "We really wanted to explore that discussion more so than we had seen in the past."
Jackson and Crawford both want this project to be a catalyst for change.
Crawford said, "there's a big call for museums to decolonize their collections and institutions."
She adds that this call puts them on a stage to thinking about how change can be achieved, hoping that this chapter is giving a little push in the right direction. "And I think that's what our project is all about," Jackson adds.