University of Leicester

Heritage representation in culturally diverse societies : a case study of the Colombo National Museum in Sri Lanka

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posted on 2015-01-08, 16:01 authored by Metiwala Walawwe Chulani Neranjana Kumari Rambukwella
This thesis constitutes the first critical analysis of representation in the Colombo National Museum. It is also the first museum studies doctoral thesis to emerge from and address Sri Lanka. In addition to outlining the historical and modern day contexts of the Colombo National Museum, its displays are analysed in relation to Sri Lanka’s cultural heritage and contemporary cultural diversity. Representation of identities and histories is a complex and potentially sensitive issue in national museums in heterogeneous societies. Displays within national institutions are often subject to criticism as a result. Museums in Sri Lanka started with the colonial establishment of what is now the Colombo National Museum in 1877. Moreover, the country has a convoluted history, particularly since independence, of ethnic tensions and civil war. The thesis delineates the histories and distribution of ethno-cultural and religious groups within Sri Lanka, and indicates interactions and conflicts between them. It also summarises the history of and issues within museums in Sri Lanka. Using a case study approach, the core of the thesis describes and analyses research undertaken within the Colombo National Museum. A databank summarising the numbers of objects affiliated with different Sri Lankan groups, was compiled. Object affiliations were identified through museum ascriptions, archaeological, historical and contemporary data, and the artefacts’ inherent characters of signification. Quantitative analysis of this databank, together with the author’s development of the notion of ‘cultural quality’, was used to critically interpret the permanent displays, producing an assessment of the degree of cultural representation in the museum. The objects in the store collections are also taken into consideration when discussing the fairness of the representation. Through the findings, the author suggests a new display framework potentially applicable to the Colombo National Museum in order to facilitate a more equitable representation of Sri Lanka’s heritages and cultural identities.



Dudley, Sandra; Golding, Viv

Date of award


Author affiliation

School of Museum Studies

Awarding institution

University of Leicester

Qualification level

  • Doctoral

Qualification name

  • PhD


The file associated with this record is under embargo until 11 November 2017.



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