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This article explores how collecting institutions with deeply colonial roots can move into a decolonial future existence, through an in-depth study of historical societies in the United States. Examining their historic roots in colonialism of the United States and the persistence of these colonial identities in spite of a variety of evolutionary trends over the 20th century, this article asks: what decolonial possibilities exist for their future? If institutional shifts have not undone the colonial identities of some collecting institutions, what can? Turning to Sarah Ahmed’s theory on queer use and Saidiya Hartman’s method of critical fabulation, I suggest practical applications of queer use and critical fabulation for decolonializing historical societies and I demonstrate how this theory is already in practice in Terese Guinsatao Monberg’s writing about the work of the Filipino American National Historical Society. Through this close study of one type of collecting institution, my intention is to set a roadmap for other types of libraries, archives, and special collections to scrutinize the colonial practices imbued in their institutional identities and to explore ways these can be undone.


This article was originally published in transfer – Zeitschrift für Provenienzforschung und Sammlungsgeschichte | Journal for Provenance Research and the History of Collection, available at

This work is distributed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License (CC BY-SA 4.0).



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