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Sarah Van Beurden

Sarah Van Beurden

Sarah Van Beurden

Associate Professor



334 Dules Hall
230 Annie and John Glenn Avenue
Columbus, OH 43210

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Areas of Expertise

  • African history (central Africa); African art history; Museum studies; Material culture studies; Transnational history; History of colonialism


  • Ph.D. History, University of Pennsylvania

Dr. Van Beurden earned her undergraduate degree from the University of Leuven in Belgium and her Ph.D. in History from the University of Pennsylvania. She is interested in the ways culture is constructed, represented, and used in political contexts and has published on the history of museums and African collections, art restitution, decolonization, provenance studies, histories of craft making, heritage politics, and contemporary Congolese art, as well as the history of anthropology and art history. Her first book, Authentically African: Arts and the Transnational Politics of Congolese Culture (New African Histories Series, Ohio University Press, 2015) investigates the role of museum politics in the legitimation of the Belgian colonial regime and the postcolonial Mobutu regime in Congo/Zaire. It tells a history of decolonization as a struggle over cultural categories, the possession of cultural heritage, and the right to define and represent cultural identities. 

Van Beurden is a frequent media contributor on topics such as African art restitution and Belgian colonialism and its legacies. For more on the topic of colonial collections, see for example the Podcast History Talk“Who Owns the Past? Museums and Cultural Heritage Repatriation,” and “Loot: Colonial Collections and African Restitution Debates” in Origins. Current Events in Historical perspective. In recent years she has taken a more active public role.  She chaired the Restitution Belgium initiative, which developed a set of guidelines for the management and restitution of colonial collection in Belgium, and served as an expert for the Special Parliamentary Commission on Belgium’s Colonial Past (the report can be found here.)


Her work has appeared in journals such as The Journal of African History, History and Anthropology, Critical Interventions, and Radical History Journal, among others (PDF’s can be found here.) She is currently finishing Congo Crafted: Histories of Making (1880s-1990s), a book that examines the dynamics of a colonial cultural economy through the history of three craft genres and their afterlives. 

Van Beurden has held fellowships at the Institute for Historical Studies at the University of Texas in Austin, the Käte Hamburger Kolleg and Centre for Global Cooperation Research at University of Duisburg-Essen (Germany) and at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin, where she was a member of the “Histories of Planning” workgroup from 2014 until 2018. During the 2020-21 academic year, Van Beurden was a member of the inaugural group of fellows of the Society of Fellows of the Global Arts and Humanities Discovery Theme. During the 2023-24 academic year she will be a Weatherhead Fellow at the School for Advanced Research in Santa Fe, NM. 

At the Ohio State University, she is an associate professor of History and African American and African Studies, and she is an affiliated faculty member of the Department of History of Art. She is also currently a member of the Ohio editorial collective for the journal African Arts. 


Representative Publications 


Van Beurden, Sarah, Didier Gondola, Agnès Lacaille (eds.) (Re) Making Collections: Origins, Trajectories, and Connections /La Fabrique des Collections: Origines, Trajectoires et Reconnexions. Studies in Social Sciences and Humanities, Volume 181, Tervuren: AfricaMuseum Press, 2023.


Van Beurden, Sarah. Authentically African: Arts and the Transnational Politics of Congolese Culture. New African Histories Series, Athens: Ohio University Press, 2015.


Van Beurden, Sarah“The Zairian Avant-Garde: Modes of African Modernism” 

Radical History Review, Issue 131 (May 2018) 151-158.


Van Beurden, Sarah. “Culture, Artifacts and Independent Africa: The Cultural Politics of Museums and Heritage” in: The Palgrave Handbook of African Colonial and Postcolonial History, edited by Toyin Falola and Martin S. Shanguhyia (New York: Palgrave-Macmillan, 2018) 1193-1212.


Van Beurden, Sarah. “The Art of (Re)Possession: Heritage and the Cultural Politics of Congo’s Decolonization” Journal of African History Vol. 56 , no. 1 (March 2015): 143-164.


For more publications, see here.