Things Between Places: Artefacts from Oceania and the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology
Professor Nicholas Thomas (Director and Curator of the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, University of Cambridge) and
Dr Anita Herle (Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, Cambridge)
Dr Anita Herle. Drawing on two outstanding Pacific collections at the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology - the museum's founding collection from Fiji assembled in the mid 1870s and material from the 1898 Cambridge Anthropological Expedition to the Torres Strait - this presentation attends to the materiality, creation and circulation of highly valued things. As active agents, objects such as whale's teeth and cardboard masks reveal the complexity and nuances of social relations between Islanders and British collectors. The interactions between local hosts/informants and researchers summoned into existence some of the very things that were collected. These things continue to play a vital role in our understanding of the specificity of colonial relations and in forging relationships between cutural decendants and museum staff.
Professor Nicholas Thomas. This talk offers a critique of the 'natural artefact', that is of the understanding that objects in ethnographic museums are extracted from the organic flow of life in communities and 'decontextualised' in collections. While recognising that museum artefacts are (in this case) the creations of Pacific cultures that have travelled, it suggests that many things bear and acquire complex identities before, around the scene of, or subsequent to their collection. Works from the Marquesas and New Caledonia, in Cambridge, Paris and elsewhere illustrate these arguments.