Prof. Dr. Paul Basu


Tel: +49 (0)228 738477 (Helen Siegburg)

Paul Basu founded the Global Heritage Lab in 2022 as Hertz Chair for Global Heritage at the University of Bonn. He is an anthropologist specialising in critical heritage, museum and material culture studies in transcultural contexts. His research draws upon a wide range of ethnographic, historical and participatory methods to explore how pasts are differently materialized and mediated in the present, and how they shape futures. His work examines the complex ways in which natural as well as cultural heritage is entangled in shifting regimes of value and geopolitical configurations. It has often involved re-engaging with colonial archives and collections relating to West Africa, exploring their ambiguous status as both sites of epistemic violence and, potentially, resources for communities to recover cultural histories, memories and alternative ways of knowing and being in the world. He is especially interested in experimenting with decolonial approaches to activating the pluriversal possibilities of historical collections and archives, not least to address the social, environmental and planetary crises of our time.

Paul Basu studied social anthropology at University College London, where he received his PhD in 2002. He has subsequently held professorships at University College London; the School of Oriental & African Studies (SOAS), London; the University of Bonn; and, since October 2023, the University of Oxford, where he is also a curator at the Pitt Rivers Museum.

Before becoming an anthropologist, Paul trained and worked in film and television production, and I continue to use audio-visual as well as other multimodal and participatory approaches in my research. He has designed and curated numerous exhibitions and museum spaces. Among recent research initiatives that he has led is the UK Arts & Humanities Research Council funded Museum Affordances / [Re:]Entanglements project.


Monographs, edited books and special journal issues

Basu, P. (ed.) (2017) The Inbetweeness of Things: Materializing Mediation and Movement between Worlds, London: Bloomsbury.

Basu, P. & F. de Jong (eds) (2016) Utopian Archives, Decolonial Affordances, special issue of Social Anthropology 24 (1).

Basu, P. & W. Modest (eds) (2015) Museums, Heritage and International Development, New York & London: Routledge.

Basu. P. & S. Coleman (eds) (2010) Pathways to Anthropology, special issue of Anthropology in Action 17 (2-3).

Basu, P. & S. Coleman (eds) (2008) Migrant Worlds, Material Cultures, special issue of Mobilities 3 (3).

Macdonald, S. & P. Basu (eds) (2007) Exhibition Experiments, Oxford: Blackwell.

Basu, P. (2007) Highland Homecomings: Genealogy and Heritage-Tourism in the Scottish Diaspora, London: Routledge.

Journal articles and book chapters

Basu, P. (2023) ‘Pour un musée pluriversel: de la violence épistémique aux écologies de savoirs’, Culture & Musées 41: 63-91.

Basu, P. (2021) ‘Re-Mobilising Colonial Collections in Decolonial Times’, in F. Driver & M. Nesbitt (eds), Mobile Museums: Collections in Circulation, London: UCL Press.

Basu, P. (2021) ‘Northcote Whitridge Thomas (1868-1936)’, in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Basu, P. (2017) ‘The Inbetweenness of Things’, in P. Basu (ed.), The Inbetweeness of Things: Materializing Mediation and Movement between Worlds, London: Bloomsbury.

Basu, P. (2016) ‘N. W. Thomas and Colonial Anthropology in British West Africa: Reappraising a Cautionary Tale’, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 22 (1): 84-107.

Basu, P. & F. de Jong (2016) ‘Utopian Archives, Decolonial Affordances’, Social Anthropology 24 (1): 5-19.

Basu, P. (2016) ‘Communicating Anthropology: Writing, Screening and Exhibiting Culture’, in S. Coleman, S. B. Hyatt & A. Kingsolver (eds), The Routledge Companion to Contemporary Anthropology, 124-43, New York: Routledge.

Basu, P. (2015) ‘Reanimating Cultural Heritage: Digital Curatorship, Knowledge Networks and Social Transformation in Sierra Leone’, in A. Coombes & R. Phillips (eds), International Handbooks of Museum Studies, Volume IV: Museum Transformations, 337-64, Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.

Basu, P. & V. Damodaran (2015) ‘Colonial Histories of Heritage: Legislative Migrations and the Politics of Preservation’, Past and Present 223 (Sup. 10): 239-70. 

Basu, P. & W. Modest (2015) ‘Museums, Heritage and Development: A Critical Conversation’, in P. Basu & W. Modest (eds), Museums, Heritage and International Development, 1-32, New York & London: Routledge.

Basu, P. & J. Zetterstrom-Sharp (2015) ‘Complicating Culture for Development: Negotiating “Dysfunctional Heritage” in Sierra Leone’, in P. Basu & W. Modest (eds), Museums, Heritage and International Development, 56-82, New York & London: Routledge. 

Basu, P. (2013) ‘Recasting the National Narrative: Postcolonial Pastiche and the New Sierra Leone Peace and Cultural Monument’, African Arts 46 (3): 10-25. 

Basu, P. (2013) ‘Memoryscapes and Multi-Sited Methods: Researching Cultural Memory in Sierra Leone’, In E. Keightley & M. Pickering (eds), Research Methods for Memory Studies, 115-31, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. 

Basu, P. (2013) ‘Material Culture: Ancestries and Trajectories in Material Culture Studies’, in J. Carrier & D. B. Gewertz (eds), Handbook of Sociocultural Anthropology, 370-90, London: Bloomsbury. 

Basu, P. (2012) ‘A Museum for Sierra Leone? Amateur Enthusiasms and Colonial Museum Policy in British West Africa’, in S. Longair & J. McAleer (eds), Curating Empire: Museums and the British Imperial Experience, 145-67, Manchester: Manchester University Press.

Basu, P. (2012) ‘Cairns in the Landscape: Migrant Stones and Migrant Stories in Scotland and its Diaspora’, in A. Arnason et al (eds), Landscapes Beyond Land: Routes, Aesthetics, Narratives, 116-38, Oxford: Berghahn.

Basu, P. (2011) ‘Object Diasporas, Resourcing Communities: Sierra Leonean Collections in the Global Museumscape’, Museum Anthropology 34 (1): 28-42.

Basu, P. (2008) ‘Confronting the Past? Negotiating a Heritage of Conflict in Sierra Leone’, Journal of Material Culture 13 (2): 233-47.

Basu, P. (2008) ‘Reframing Ethnographic Film’, in T. Austin & W. de Jong (eds), Rethinking Documentary: New Perspectives and Practices, 94-106, Maidenhead: Open University Press.

Basu, P. (2007) ‘Palimpsest Memoryscapes: Materializing and Mediating War and Peace in Sierra Leone’, in F. de Jong & M. Rowlands (eds), Reclaiming Heritage: Alternative Imaginaries of Memory in West Africa, 231-59, Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press. 

Basu, P. & S. Macdonald (2007) ‘Experiments in Exhibition, Ethnography, Art and Science’, in S. Macdonald & P. Basu (eds), Exhibition Experiments, 1-24, Oxford: Blackwell.

Basu, P. (2007) ‘The Labyrinthine Aesthetic in Contemporary Museum Design’, in S. Macdonald & P. Basu (eds), Exhibition Experiments, 47-70, Oxford: Blackwell.

Basu, P. (2006) ‘Pilgrims to the Far Country: North American “Roots-Tourists” in the Scottish Highlands and Islands’, in C. Ray (ed.), Transatlantic Scots, 286-317, Tuscaloosa: Alabama University Press.

Basu, P. (2005) ‘Roots-Tourism as Return Movement: Semantics and the Scottish Diaspora’, in M. Harper (ed.), Emigrant Homecomings: The Return Movement of Emigrants, 1600-2000, 131-50, Manchester: Manchester University Press.

Basu, P. (2005) ‘Macpherson Country: Genealogical Identities, Spatial Histories and the Scottish Diasporic Clanscape’, Cultural Geographies 12(2): 123-150.

Basu, P. (2005) ‘Museum, Landscape and the Storytelling Space Between’, Landscape & Arts 34/35: 2-6.

Basu, P. (2004) ‘“My Own Island Home”: Orkney Homecoming’, Journal of Material Culture 9(1): 27-42.

Basu, P. (2004) ‘Route Metaphors of Roots-Tourism in the Scottish Diaspora’ in S. Coleman & J. Eade (eds), Reframing Pilgrimage: Cultures in Motion, 150-74, London: Routledge.

Basu, P. (2001) ‘Hunting Down Home: Reflections on Homeland and the Search for Identity in the Scottish Diaspora’, in B. Bender & M. Winer (eds), Contested Landscapes: Movement, Exile and Place, 333-48, Oxford: Berg.

Online articles

Basu, P. (2022) ‘Art as Colonial Contact Zone: Troubled Encounters in Kirchner and Nolde: Expressionism, Colonialism’, Stedelijk Studies

Basu, P. (2018-22) Over 60 single- and joint-authored online articles, see

Exhibition curation

‘[Re:]Entanglements: Colonial collections in decolonial times’, Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, University of Cambridge, 2021-22.

‘An archive by other means’, in collaboration with the Art Assassins youth forum, South London Gallery, London, 2021.

‘[Re:]Entangled traditions’, co-curated with George Agbo, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Nigeria, 2020.

‘[Re:]Entanglements: Contemporary art and colonial archives’, co-curated with Kelani Abass and Taye Pedro, National Museum, Lagos, Nigeria, 2019.

‘Colonial archives, creative collaborations’ co-curated with Enotie Ogbebor, Nosona Studios, Benin City, Nigeria, 2019.

‘Photographic affordances: Revisiting N. W. Thomas’s photographic archives’, Royal Anthropological Institute, 2018.

‘Sowei mask: Spirit of Sierra Leone’, co-curated with Julie Hudson, Asahi Shimbun / Objects in Focus exhibition series, British Museum. Part of the display was subsequently included in the British Museum ‘A History of the World in 100 Objects’ international touring exhibition to Abu Dhabi, Taipei, Tokyo, Dazaifu, Kobe, Perth, Canberra, Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong., 2013-19.

‘Reanimating cultural heritage in Sierra Leone’, including international collaboration/exchange with the British Museum and Sierra Leone National Museum, University College London, 2012.

Sierra Leone National Museum, redevelopment of permanent galleries, 2010-11.

‘Culture and conflict in Sierra Leone’, Giles Gallery, Richmond, Kentucky, 2010.

Caithness Archaeology Trust, Caithness, design and curation of permanent exhibition, 2006-08.

 ‘Home and away: Highland departures and returns’, Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh. A version of the exhibition subsequently toured throughout the Scottish Highlands and Islands, and was displayed at the Ellis Island Immigration Museum, New York, 200-02.

Dunbeath Heritage Centre, Caithness, redevelopment of heritage centre, including design and curation of permanent galleries, 2000-01.

Film, television and digital media

Ichi: Marks in Time (2022) feature-length documentary, 70 mins.

Unspoken Stories: Five Archival Monologues (2020) multiscreen installation, 18 mins –

Faces|Voices (2019), short film, 18 mins, winner of Best Research Film at 2019 Research in Film Awards; official selection RAI Film Festival 2021 –

Ethnomusicological field recordings in Sierra Leone and Nigeria (2019-20), funded by British Library Sounds (see, for example,

[Re:]Entanglements project website (2018-21),

Sierra Leone Heritage website (2009-12),

Reanimating Cultural Heritage participatory video-making programme, working with Sierra Leonean NGOs to produce over 60 short film documentations on cultural themes (2009-11),   

Freelance film and television production (1990-98), e.g. The Doors of Memory (producer), 1998 [Venice Film Festival]; The Ghosts of Biggin Hill (producer-director), 1994; numerous production and technical roles, short films, script writing, music videos, etc.