ASA09: Anthropological and archaeological imaginations: past, present and future
Bristol, UK

Professionalisation and institutionalisation
Location Arch & Anth LT1
Date and Time 7th April, 2009 at 09:15


Sue Giles
Chris Wingfield (University of Cambridge)
Mark Elliott (University of Cambridge)
Mail All Convenors

Short Abstract

The role of museums and collectors in the emerging discipline of anthropology in the first half of the twentieth century.

Long Abstract

Over the last two centuries, museums and the academic discipline of anthropology have developed, bringing increasing professionalism into curatorship and fieldwork. But look at any museum collection, and it is clear that the 'amateur' has been and still is important in ethnographic collecting. What divides the amateur from the professional, and what brings them together? What makes an amateur into a professional? The focus is on collectors and collections: what drives the one and creates the other?

This theme can cover many different strands, such as:

- the changing role of the amateur collector in ethnographic collecting

- non-specialist specialists: other -ologists such as archaeologists, geologists or ornithologists collecting as a sideline to their specialism

- women collectors and the amateur / professional divide

- the development of ethnographic museum collections, and the historic context of collecting, from cabinets of curiosities covering all disciplines to contemporary collecting

- changing ideas in museums: in curatorship, ethnographic displays, the ethics of collecting

- personal collections, from living room displays to private institutions

- collections research, and, eg, how the method of collection affects the research possible

- the collector, amateur or professional, and their relationship with the source community

Chair: Sue Giles
Discussant: Chris Wingfield

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


Collecting relations in contemporary acquisitions

Author: Elizabeth Bonshek (Museum Victoria)


In this paper I revisit the concept of "duplicates", "gaps" and "exchange" in museum collecting and acquisition. While the concept of "gaps" maintains currency in the language of contemporary museum acquisition, the idea of "duplicates", while related, has antiquated associations. In the "old days" museums designated some objects as "duplicates" which might be "exchanged" for objects from other institutions, thus filling their own collection "gaps". I consider these terms in reflecting upon historical transactions of Melanesian objects at the British Museum. I then compare these to a contemporary acquisition made as part of a field collection in Papua New Guinea in 2007, made though an exchange. The 2007 exchange provides a means to reflect upon the acquisition of non-material aspects (social relationships) through exchange, aspects which are normally disconnected with objects as "collectables". This dimension, is generally not comprehended as part of a museum's acquisition process, where a simple monetary transaction normally cements a purchase. In this specific case, contemporary collecting through exchange required a shift from acquiring objects to establishing relationships.

Incomplete portraits: art, anthropology and the Indian sculpture of Marguerite Milward

Author: Mark Elliott (University of Cambridge)


Between 1935 and 1938 Mrs Marguerite Milward, Associate of the Paris Salon, sculptor and world traveller, journeyed throughout the Indian subcontinent sculpting the heads of men and women for a collection of 'types'. Praised at the time for their accuracy and value as anthropological data, they were donated to the Cambridge Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology in 1948.

Milward's sculptures seem caught somewhere between anthropology and art, or ethnography and portraiture. Well connected within fine art circles in France and India, Milward was also closely acquainted with prominent figures in anthropology, including Elwin, Hutton, Furer- Haimendorf and Guha. Her position, and that of her work, remained ambiguous. Along with her accompanying collection of ethnographic objects and photographs, the sculptures highlight the productive (if contentious) position of the amateur, or the extra-disciplinary professional, in the formation of both museum collections and disciplinary identities. Since their donation they have rarely if ever been exhibited and have remained hidden in storage - regarded as unpleasant reminders of anthropology's historical concern with race. As they return to public view in a new exhibition, the heads highlight historic convergences between anthropology and art, and the changing nature of the 'ethnographic object' in museum collections. Moreover, they raise questions about how museums deal with troubling aspects of their history.

Scientific bricolage or amateur science? Exploring the distinctions between public and private collections of the early 20th century

Author: Lucie Carreau (University of East Anglia)


In “The Savage Mind”, Claude Lévi-Strauss compares the science of the concrete (put into practice by the bricoleur) and the science of the abstract (undertaken by the engineer) to reveal how different thought processes can lead to equally valid results.

In the light of Lévi-Strauss' theory, amateur collectors seem to echo the endeavours of the bricoleur, while museum professionals would tend towards the more scientific and rationalised thought processes of the engineer. But was this so at the beginning of the 20th century?

Using Harry Beasley’s private collection of Pacific artefacts formed between 1895 and 1939 as an example, this paper attempts to show that Lévi-Strauss distinction between bricoleur and engineer is "good to think" in relation to collection-making: does the distinction between amateur and professional rely on a contrast between concrete and abstract, between bricolage and science?

Although Lévi-Strauss theory is anchored in a structuralist framework, it is not its structural component that is here highlighted, but the thought processes underlying the activity of collecting, and its relationship to bricolage, science and art. Levi-Strauss’ works allow us to get a glimpse at the nature of collectors (amateurs and professionals), oscillating between bricoleurs, artists and scientists by creating complex constructed artefacts.

Material culture in Slovenian museum collections

Author: Jože Hudales (Faculty of Art, University Ljubljana)


Durig the history of collections and collectors the notion of museum objects made a major shifts from delighting in the world's strange offerings and abondoned many of the aesthetic and mystical criteria that previously determined the museum objects as vital part of (national - regional) cultural heritage. At the end of 19. century European and American ethnology/anthropology museums and »collections incited wonder and admiration, esoteric knowledge, and adventourus spirits of the collector« (Jenkins 1994). Instead of these new collections were based on scientific notions of classification, began to emphasize the summary relationships among objects.

In my paper I tried to find the same development in Slovenian museums collections of 19th and 20th century and answer the questions what kind and whose material culture (heritage) was gathered in our museum collections and how collectors and curators interpreted it in the language of museum exhibitions.

In last few decades also in Slovenia we are faced with many new phenomena concerning museum collections and collecting in the era of postmodernism. Some of these development we can trace also in Slovenian ethnological museums after 1980; in that period I will focus on the newly defined role of collections in museums concerning »ethnologization of museums« and »activistic concepts of museums«. At the end I will analize rapid growth of new collections; in last decade hundreds of them appeared and their owners try to promote them as vital part of local identity.