Main content start

PRESS RELEASE: New Postdoctoral Scholar will focus for the first time on Stanford Archaeology’s African Collections

The Stanford Archaeology Center welcomes Dr. Denise Lim as a postdoctoral scholar for the new African Collections project at the Stanford University Archaeology Collections (SUAC).

This one-year postdoctoral position is the first based in the Center’s collections, a global museum of over 100,000 archaeological, ethnographic, and art objects. The collection returned to campus from off-site storage in 2013 and, thanks to a grant for the Institute of Museum and Library Services, underwent its first complete inventory in 2018–2020. We discovered greater depth and variety in our African materials than expected. Reflecting critically on our curatorial practices, we also realized these materials have been underutilized because we know so little about them.

For SUAC, the African Collections project inaugurates a new strategy of collections care, in which we invite an early career scholar to undertake professional networking and community engagement in concert with basic collections research, rather than after. We anticipate this community-centered approach will be a model for enriching other under-studied collection areas, such as Asia, Latin America, and the Pacific. It could also build on our successes, most notably in engaging North American collections with campus and originating communities and our strong, longstanding partnerships with the Stanford Native American Cultural Center and the Muwekma Ohlone Tribe. Dr. Lim will strengthen Stanford’s connections with African cultural institutions, Africanist scholars, and diasporic communities.

Undergraduate Leo Spunt, one of the VPUE Research Assistants on the African Collections project, assists Dr. Denise Lim to photograph a beaded gourd from Egypt. Photograph by Veronica Jacobs-Edmondson, Stanford University Archaeology Collections.

Dr. Lim arrived in early May and is already bringing insight to the ethnographic and archaeological materials we care for, which include over 300 objects from over 10 countries and other unknown places of origin across Africa, and over 800 artifacts from ancient Egypt and Nubia. By improving our understanding of these materials, Dr. Lim will allow them to more readily participate in teaching and research and, in this way, make African people, and the colonial dynamics of African collecting, more visible. Her work is assisted by two undergraduate Research Assistants, Brittany Linus and Leo Spunt, funded by the Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education. Dr. Lim’s position is generously supported by donors from the Center’s Archaeology Council. We warmly invite anyone interested in learning more about Dr. Lim’s research or this initiative to contact the Stanford University Archaeology Collections. Beaded gourd container made and used by Nubian people from Egypt, donated to Stanford University by Timothy Hopkins around 1892 (Stanford University Archaeology Collections Object ID 8400).

Dr. Lim has a BA in English and Sociology from Bryn Mawr College, an MA in African Studies, and a PhD in Sociology from Yale University, where she was a research fellow at the Yale Institute for the Preservation of Cultural Heritage (IPCH). Dr. Lim has worked for over 15 years in the transdisciplinary sociology of diverse African communities, concentrating on southern Africa and the region’s diverse art practices. She co-curated the Contemporary Art/South Africa exhibition at the Yale University Art Gallery in 2014 and has undertaken curation, research, and teaching within Yale’s notable African art collection.

Dr. Lim’s contribution to a participatory art practice collaboration undertaken in Johannesburg is of special relevance to her work researching SUAC’s African collections. As part of her dissertation fieldwork, Dr. Lim photographed and catalogued thousands of artifacts that artists Mikhael Subotzkky and Patrick Waterhouse collected from a residential complex called Ponte City, a Brutalist tower that had unsuccessfully gone through several cycles of attempted gentrification and forcibly evicted tenants from their homes in 2008. Dr. Lim recontextualized these artifacts with multimedia forms of data including Ponte’s photographic archive, architectural blueprints, city planning documents, tenant applications from the National Archives, documentary films, and newspaper articles. She is now completing her most recent project, a survey on behalf of the Yale IPCH and the Global Consortium for the Preservation of Cultural Heritage to evaluate the impact that COVID-19 has had on cultural heritage and preservation training programs throughout the African continent.

A pair of carved, worn wooden sandals made and used by Songye people from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, donated to Stanford University by Dan and Yota Stuhlmueller before 1984 (Stanford University Archaeology Collections Object ID 84.599A and 84.599B).

While at Stanford, Dr. Lim will develop new collaborative partnerships with various cultural heritage institutions, universities, and community organizations throughout the African continent. She also will co-teach a course entitled, The African Archive Beyond Colonization with Dr. Sarah Derbew in the winter 2022 quarter at Stanford University, and plans to work with students to launch both a physical and virtual exhibition of the African collections held at the SUAC by March 2022. Dr. Lim is currently a member of the Stanford Humanities Center Workshop on Postcolonial Spatialities headed by Dr. Ato Quayson.



Christina J. Hodge, Academic Curator and Collections Manager, Stanford University Archaeology Collections

suarchcoll [at] (subject: African%20Collections%2FDenise%20Lim) (suarchcoll[at]stanford[dot]edu)