Accepted Paper:

Engaging with complexity: museums and the diversity of the European colonial encounter  
Chris Wingfield (University of East Anglia)

Paper short abstract:

Rather than representing a local indigenous other, European museum anthropologists frequently have a brief that includes much of the non-western world. The collections they curate frequently have their origins in diverse engagements with the non-European world and can be used to suggest these.

Paper long abstract:

Many of the concerns and issues addressed in the recent literature on museum anthropology emanate from 'settler societies' - communities of largely European descent for whom museums are a site of negotiation with local indigenous groups. While some of these concerns reach back along lines of colonial connection to the origins of these settlers, many European museums are faced with a situation of greater complexity.

Rather than specialising on a particular local area, European museum anthropologists may have a brief that includes most of the non-western world. In addition, collections were made by people with a variety of engagements with the parts of the world they visited. Some may have been settlers, but others were missionaries, travellers, administrators, traders and even anthropologists.

The paper shall consider the collections of Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery, and the ways in which efforts have been made since the establishment of new anthropological displays in the 1990s to engage with the diversity of their origins. In particular current work dealing with missionary collectors will be addressed.

Panel IW06
Museums, anthropology and the representation of the colonial past