What effects do and did ethnographic collections have in Britain, now and in the past? How might established histories of museum anthropology and ethnographic collecting be rethought? What multiple agencies were involved in making collections? This panel addresses these and related questions.
Museum anthropology and ethnographic collecting have histories deeply interwoven with the Enlightenment roots of anthropology as a whole and with the colonial endeavour. Indigenous artefacts collected in the colonies also had and continue to have significant effects on British museumgoers, undoing and reinforcing established beliefs, instigating wonder and enlightenment, and influencing wider intellectual trajectories, such as the Romantic movement. Yet these influences and effects, historical or contemporary, are complex and subtle. Nonetheless, received accounts hide the multiple agencies - including that of indigenous peoples - involved in the creation and use of collections. Established histories also assume a rupture between the era dominated by museum anthropology and evolutionary theory, and the cultural relativism of the twentieth century. Not dissimilarly, tensions are often assumed between universalising, abstracting and progressive Enlightenment frameworks and more local, relativist, culture-based views. From Hutcheson's critique of reductive, Lockeian empiricism onwards, however, the Scottish Enlightenment took a more particularist, historicist and realist approach to the complexities of humanity. In this spirit, this panel invites papers that consider, from a range of perspectives, the histories and/or past or present effects of ethnographic collections and museums. Considerations of multiple agency, revisions of received histories, examinations of contributions of ethnographic material culture to wider intellectual movements, assessments of encounters in the field or in the museum as moments of enlightenment and wonder, are all possible.