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Accepted Paper:

The Countess’ diaries and Taonga Māori: Twenty-first century collaborations around nineteenth century collecting  
Kirsty Kernohan (University of Aberdeen)

Paper short abstract:

Collaborations around the context and care of Taonga Māori at the University of Aberdeen require engagement with Māori academics, weavers and families as well as 19th century diaries. This paper explores how competing narratives depend on one another in collaborations involving colonial legacies.

Paper long abstract:

In the 1890s, Māori weavers gave taonga (treasures) to the Countess of Kintore on her visits to Aotearoa New Zealand. She took the taonga back to Aberdeenshire and donated them to the University of Aberdeen Museums. Since 2018, I have collaborated with Māori academics, weavers, and people with family ties to the taonga: we established links between the taonga and descendants of their makers, exchanged information about provenance, and sought to establish better care of the taonga in the museum. This kind of collaboration is best practice in museum anthropology and has a concrete impact on the way in which objects are understood and cared for. These collaborations were facilitated by reading the Countess’ diaries. In this paper, I argue that this archival research is a form of collaboration. The Countess’ control of the archival narrative forged the direction of our collaborations around the taonga: her decision to donate the taonga dictated their legal ownership; her choice of which names and places to record affected which taonga could be involved in connections, and her descriptions of collecting them provide evidence for the legitimacy of those acquisitions. Collaborating with the Countess was not an egalitarian process which celebrated her voice. Engaging with hundreds of pages of derogatory language and colonial rhetoric, I took an ethnographic approach which restricted, challenged and criticised her narrative. Nevertheless, subsequent collaborations have relied heavily on her words and experiences. These interdependent processes of collaboration illustrate the tangled negotiation of competing narratives in collaborations involving colonial legacies.

Panel Speak14b
The limits of collaboration II
  Session 1 Monday 29 March, 2021, -