How to deal with the legacies of colonial and other problematic pasts is a challenge shared by most museums of ethnography and ethnology. In this introduction to the following special section on the same topic, the section editors provide an overview and analysis of the burdens and potentials of the past in such museums. They set out different strategies that have been devised by ethnographic museums, identifying and assessing the most promising approaches. In doing so, they are especially concerned to consider the cosmopolitan potential of ethnographic museums and how this might be best realized. This entails explaining how the articles that they have brought together can collectively go beyond state-of-the-art approaches to provide new insight not only into the difficulties but also into the possibilities for redeploying ethnographic collections and formats toward more convivial and cosmo-optimistic futures.