Doctoral research

My dissertation, Decolonize and Divest: The Changing Landscape of Oil-Sponsored Museums in Canada (2022), investigates growing resistance to partnerships between fossil fuel companies and museums around the globe. It is the first scholarly, multi-site study of oil sponsorship in Canadian museums.

I situate museums in a moment of critical change, wherein Canadian museums lead global efforts to “decolonize” – or reform the ways they engage with Indigenous stakeholders and Indigenous collections – while maintaining financial partnerships with the oil industry. With activists and cultural workers increasingly calling for museums to divest from fossil fuels in Europe and the U.S., I interrogate the reality of museum practice in two oil-sponsored museums: the Glenbow Museum in Calgary and the Canadian Museum of History in Gatineau.

Focusing on two museum exhibitions from different moments of Canadian history, my dissertation traces the political economic implications of industry support for cultural initiatives and highlight the granular experiences of museum professionals who work on such projects. I explore the first instance of contested oil sponsorship in a Canadian museum –The Spirit Sings: Artistic Traditions of Canada’s First Peoples (1988), sponsored by Shell – to argue that, despite community-informed reforms to collections care, exhibitions, or programming, Canada’s museum sector has neglected Indigenous groups’ early critiques of oil sponsors and their ties to land dispossession. The next case study explores the more recent Canadian History Hall (2017) – sponsored by the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers – to illustrate the contemporary manifestations of extractive interests that emerge in the development of a large, national history exhibition.

Together, the historical and contemporary data I collected through archival research, interviews, and document analysis point to the complexity of justice-oriented museology in a country deeply connected to exploitative resource extraction. I argue that while there is minimal overlap between sponsors and exhibition development, the contradictions of corporate funding highlight the ongoing hegemonic function of museums. Through reflective engagement with contributions from decolonial pedagogy and museology, I propose that undertheorized aspects of museum operations, including the behind-the-scenes practices of funding, should be similarly informed by the socially engaged frameworks currently underpinning museum work in Canada.