Rijksmuseum stripping insensitive words from artwork titles, descriptions

The Rijksmuseum started a project to detect all derogatory ethnic terms in the descriptions of its collection and replace them with neutral terms. Soon terms like "Negroes", "Hottentots", "Eskimos" and "Indians" will no longer appear anywhere in the descriptions of the museum's collection, Het Parool reports.

Eveline Sint Nicolaas, curator in the museum's department of history, told the newspaper that this decision was made due to a growing sense of discomfort rising from terms that often stem from colonial times, especially since so many more people have access to the collection's descriptions via the museum website after the mass digitization of the collection. "That greatly increased the interaction with the audience", she said to the newspaper. "A black woman used to be quickly described as a Negro or negress. Now many people rightly experience that as derogatory."

Sint Nicolaas is leading a team with the task of identifying and replacing these terms. And that is no easy task, according to her. The Rijkmuseum's collection consists of thousands of objects, each with a title and descriptions. "And that's not even all of it. "We often know very well what words can no be used, but we do not always know how to describe an object. If it involves a better description of people indigenous to Suriname, to give an example, we can choose form Caribbean or Aarawak. Which tribe is not always apparent on the basis of the object."

So far these adjustments have not led to internal debate, according to the curator. "Everyone is very positive. We hope to be done with the modifications in the spring."