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Academic Anthropology and the Museum

Academic Anthropology and the Museum: Back to the Future

Edited by Mary Bouquet
Copyright Date: 2001
Edition: 1
Published by: Berghahn Books
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    Academic Anthropology and the Museum
    Book Description:

    The museum boom, with its accompanying objectification and politicization of culture, finds its counterpart in the growing interest by social scientists in material culture, much of which is to be found in museums. Not surprisingly, anthropologists in particular are turning their attention again to museums, after decades of neglect, during which fieldwork became the hallmark of modern anthropology - so much so that the "social" and the "material" parted company so radically as to produce a kind of knowledge gap between historical collections and the intellectuals who might have benefitted from working on these material representations of culture. Moreover it was forgotten that museums do not only present the "pastness" of things. A great deal of what goes on in contemporary museums is literally about planning the shape of the future: making culture materialize involves mixing things from the past, taking into account current visions, and knowing that the scenes constructed will shape the perspectives of future generations. However, the (re-)invention of museum anthropology presents a series of challenges for academic teaching and research, as well as for the work of cultural production in contemporary museums - issues that are explored in this volume.

    eISBN: 978-1-78238-661-2
    Subjects: Art & Art History, Anthropology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Figures
    (pp. vii-ix)
  4. Contributors
    (pp. x-xii)
  5. Acknowledgements
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
    Mary Bouquet
  6. 1 Introduction: Academic anthropology and the museum. Back to the future
    (pp. 1-16)
    Mary Bouquet

    The museum boom, with its accompanying objectification and politicisation of culture, finds its counterpart in expanding social scientific interest in the musealisation of culture. There is ample evidence that anthropologists are among those whose imaginations have been fired by the museum, over the past fifteen to twenty years.¹ However, this current of anthropological interest in museums is fairly recent (seeAmes 1992), and it is certainly not evenly distributed around the academic world. Away from the mainlands of museum anthropology, there are still remote islands that appear to be untouched by these developments (cf. Gerholm and Hannerz 1983). The (re-)...

  7. Part I Anthropological encounters with the post-colonial museum

    • 2 The photological apparatus and the desiring machine. Unexpected congruences between the Koninklijk Museum, Tervuren and the U’mistà Centre, Alert Bay
      (pp. 18-35)
      Barbara Saunders

      One feature¹ of a museum is the performative naturalisation of ‘objective’ relations between a state² and ‘its’ culture or master narrative of descent, through changing, and sometimes deceptively diffuse and decentralised means (Duncan and Wallach 1980, Hooper Greenhill 1992).³ A museum’s task is to construct a shifting multiplicity of tableaux vivants as facets or dimensions of the state.⁴ The Israel Museum in Jerusalem is exemplary:⁵ science and evolution validate the narrative of descent and warrant the cultural-historical blue-print. The cradle of civilisation is presented through archaeology, sacred texts⁶, history, contemporary art, and prestigious travelling exhibitions.⁷ Exhibits convey a sense of...

    • 3 Picturing the museum: Photography and the work of mediation in the Third Portuguese Empire
      (pp. 36-54)
      Nuno Porto

      Photography and museum studies have recently entered into dialogue, as historians and anthropologists begin to deal with that peculiar class of museum artefacts: the photographic archives. Roughly three types of approach can be distinguished. First there is the approach that sees photographic collections as the basis for historical discourse on a specific social group at a specific point in time, such as Geary’s (1988) work on Bamum. Then there is the line that sets out from the transformation of views about a specific group, constructed through time by several different authors, who may or may not have known about each...

    • 4 On the pre-museum history of Baldwin Spencer’s collection of Tiwi artefacts
      (pp. 55-74)
      Eric Venbrux

      In December 1994, the Tiwi Land Council, representing the ‘Traditional Owners’ of Melville and Bathurst Islands in northern Australia, paid a considerable amount of money for an old spear and club at a Sotheby’s auction. The Tiwi artefacts were purchased to be put on display in a local museum on the islands (Tiwi Land Council 1995: 10). The reappropriation of indigenous objects raises the question of how early collectors obtained them, and what they then meant in terms of cross-cultural exchange.

      At the turn of the twentieth century, European scholars considered the Australian Aborigines an outstanding example of ‘primitive society’....

  8. Part II Ethnographic museums and ethnographic museology ‘at home’

    • 5 Anthropology at home and in the museum: the case of the Musée National des Arts et Traditions Populaires in Paris
      (pp. 76-91)
      Martine Segalen

      France has two national museums of general anthropology: the Musée de l’Homme, which covers the cultures and civilisations of the world; and for France, the Musée National des Arts et Traditions Populaires. These are in addition to specialist museums such as the Musée Guimet, which is devoted to oriental art. Anthropological museums seemed poised, at the beginning of the twenty-first century, for a new future. After long debate, a new Musée des Arts et Civilisations comprising the ethnographic collections of the present Musée de l’Homme (at Trocadéro) and Musée des Arts Africains et Océaniens (at the Porte Dorée, on the...

    • 6 ‘Does anthropology need museums?’ Teaching ethnographic museology in Portugal thirty years later
      (pp. 92-104)
      Nélia Dias

      The question raised by William Sturtevant (1969), in a provocative and stimulating article on the relationships between museums and anthropology, is still pertinent thirty years later. I do not propose to give an account of the historical and institutional reasons which contributed to separating academic anthropology from museums, having discussed these issues elsewhere (Dias 1992). However, two points are worth noting with regard to the relationships between anthropology and museums today, when compared with the situation at the end of the nineteenth century. First, museums and material culture were synonymous during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries; they gradually followed...

  9. Part III Science museums as an ethnographic challenge

    • 7 Towards an ethnography of museums: SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY AND US
      (pp. 106-116)
      Roberto J. González, Laura Nader and C. Jay Ou

      Recent controversies at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. provoked our thinking about the involvement of anthropology in museums over time and about a revitalised, ethnographically-informed interest in museums and museum exhibits by anthropologists that has been increasingly evident since the 1980s. One of the Smithsonian controversies dealt with theEnola Gayexhibit, which commemorated the fiftieth anniversary of the dropping of atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Nagasaki and Hiroshima. The second controversy centred aroundScience in American life, an exhibit located at the National Museum of American History, and will be described in more detail below. Both...

    • 8 Behind the scenes at the Science Museum: KNOWING, MAKING AND USING
      (pp. 117-140)
      Sharon Macdonald

      Between 1988 and 1990 I carried out ethnographic fieldwork in the Science Museum, London – Britain’s national museum of science and industry, generally acknowledged to be one of the world’s major science museums. Looking back, I can still feel the tremor of excitement I felt on first being permitted to go ‘backstage’ with my own key to use doors – half-hidden by displays – at the back of galleries leading to what seemed initially like a maze of footfall-echoey spiral staircases and further mysterious doors, behind the scenes. The world which I was exploring as an ethnographer was quite literally divided into ‘back...

  10. Part IV Anthropologists as cultural producers

      (pp. 142-161)
      Anthony Shelton

      InThe conflict of interpretations(1974), Paul Ricoeur makes a distinction between three types of knowledge based on their different epistemological ascriptions. These distinctions provide a useful starting point for discussion about the variants of anthropological discourse and their relationship with what I have termed elsewhere, ‘the three museologies’ (Shelton 1995b: 7). Briefly, Ricoeur distinguishes between what we might call a culture’s operative discourses, disciplinary regimes of knowledge, and critical philosophy. This latter practice subjects the first two narrative forms to analytical scrutiny or, to use a postmodernist idiom, fields a sustained ‘incredulity to meta-narratives’ (Lyotard 1984: xxiv). It is clear...

      (pp. 162-176)
      Jeanne Cannizzo

      This chapter uses a case study, the development of the exhibitionDavid Livingstone and the Victorian Encounter with Africa, to examine the theoretical construction, methodological issues and analytical frameworks which govern cultural production. The negotiations necessary to resolve any conflicts or tensions which result from the pairing of different academic disciplines on a curatorial team will be explored. Certain aspects of almost all academic training, regardless of discipline, which may be antithetical to the exhibition process will also be addressed. Possible analogies with the production of radio documentaries for public broadcasting will be offered. Like a museum exhibition, but unlike...

    • 11 The art of exhibition-making as a problem of translation
      (pp. 177-198)
      Mary Bouquet

      This chapter addresses what are often seen as the practical issues of exhibition-making as a theoretical problem of translation – with all the transformative effects of moving between languages¹ – and as a didactic device. It begins by invoking anthropological concern about recent developments in the museum world. It goes on to consider how (what are often thought of as) technical aspects the process of making a temporary exhibition at the University of Oslo Ethnographic Museum were used as a didactic device. Finally, there is a discussion of how these technical matters fit into the theoretical operation of translation that exhibition-making involves....

  11. Part V Looking ahead

    • 12 Why post-millennial museums will need fuzzy guerrillas
      (pp. 200-211)
      Michael M. Ames

      As the millennium approached more attention was being given to speculations about what the twenty-first century holds, the terrors of damnation, the delights of paradise, or a mixture somewhere in between. Whatever the futures projected for the future, there appeared to be growing consensus on what we were leaving behind: the end of everything we knew.

      Indian sociologist T. K. Oommen (1995: 141) observed several years ago how ‘We live in a world of endisms (end of history, geography, nature, ideology), pastisms (post-industrial, post-capitalist, post-modern) and beyondisms (beyond the nation state, beyond the Cold War) .... If endisms indicate a...

  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 212-230)
  13. Index
    (pp. 231-240)