‘Hammer time’ professor: For diverse audiences, try new platforms

Oxford archaeologist working with MC Hammer on repatriation of African treasures says researchers should step outside their comfort zones

March 16, 2021
Head and shoulder image of Rapper MC Hammer as Dan Hicks, professor of contemporary archaeology at Oxford shared a platform with him.
Source: Getty

The University of Oxford archaeologist who shared a platform with MC Hammer has urged academics to step outside their comfort zones to reach new audiences.

Dan Hicks, professor of contemporary archaeology at Oxford, took part in a four-hour debate organised by the 1990s music megastar this month on calls for the British Museum and other collections to return looted African treasures.

The pair now have plans to continue their partnership, which was initiated on Twitter last autumn by the musician, who is best known for his 1990 hit U Can’t Touch This and his trademark baggy trousers.

“Hammer made a comment about the restitution of museum artefacts to Africa and I liked it, but he immediately came back to challenge me about what my museum was doing,” said Professor Hicks, curator of world archaeology at Oxford’s Pitt Rivers Museum.

“I replied with a screenshot of a page in my new book about the relationship between museum, empire and colonial ideology and we’ve interacted online about this since then.”

Professor Hicks admitted that he was wary about accepting the recent invitation to debate, but said it had turned out to be the “best four-hour event I’ve ever attended”.

“I had no idea what to expect and it was a risk but when the Hammer calls, you can’t say no,” he added.

Reaching a different audience to those found in scholarly or museum circles was part of the event’s success, continued Professor Hicks.

“Hammer regularly has conversations with his enormous base on Twitter, which includes a lot of young African Americans who really care about this issue but are not normally part of the conversations with museums,” he said, adding that he hoped that more academics would experiment with “more egalitarian and democratic” technology platforms.

“It’s a gamble but everyone should think about doing it as these important conversations have often been locked away in ivory towers,” he said.

“Hammer is speaking to a community who believe African culture should be returned and both sides are learning from each other.”

Professor Hicks added: “We’ve invited him to speak in Oxford and we really hope to be welcoming here when normal times return.”



Print headline: Professor: ‘If Hammer calls, you can’t say no’

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