Who's afraid of the Anthropology Museum?
(University of Queensland)
Paper short abstract:
Following an eight-year stint leading a university collection of ethnographic material in Australia, I discuss the singularity of the University of Queensland's Anthropology Museum and how generating and managing social energy in a museum can reactivate the vitality in collections.
Paper long abstract:
Moving away from the politics of representation and museums as contact zones, Thomas (2016) suggests that museums are 'creative technologies that enable us to remake things anew in the present'. The expanding audiences for the large UK university ethnographic museums are not composed of academic anthropologists but of a wider public who come to know anthropology through their engagement with the museum (ibid). In the UK, the heritage lottery fund has re-energised the museum sector - including university museums. In Australian universities, campus museums rely mainly on the largesse of vice chancellors, a situation that may result in short funding cycles and short-term planning. Despite the recent ethnographic turn in art, paradoxically most commentary in the anthropology of art and curatorial studies eschew the ethnographic museum in favour of examples from a contemporary art category. Outside museum anthropology, the prevailing academic sentiment in Australia does not attribute value or social agency to ethnographic collections, often relegating them to a polluted, not art category of dead things. Many of those who work in museums experience collections as living. Following an eight-year stint leading the largest university collection of ethnographic material things in Australia, I discuss the contemporary relevance of such anthropology museums, the singularity of the University of Queensland's Anthropology Museum and how generating and managing social energy in a museum can reactivate the vitality of collections. I ask how these museums collections can play a greater part in contemporary academic anthropology.
Enlivening the dead: anthropology and heritage