Accepted paper:

Horse things: objects, practices and meanings on display


Anita Maurstad (Tromsø University Museum)
Dona Davis (University of South Dakota)
Sarah Dean

Paper short abstract:

Integrating the perspectives of museum studies and multispecies ethnography this paper discusses how traditional museum instruments - material objects - may be used to capture the less objective, less palpable subjectively felt meanings that develop in the practice of horse-human relationships.

Paper long abstract:

Studies of horse-human relationships offer lessons about being human and nonhuman animals in the contemporary world. Disseminating knowledge from such studies, museums are venues that reach multiple audiences. Integrating perspectives of museum studies and multispecies ethnography, we explore how museum objects can come to express more subjective and experiential relations among humans and horses. Over 60 US Midwestern and north Norwegian horse people were asked to identify and describe objects that illustrate their relationships to horses. Objects identified are polysemic and multifaceted. They both resonate with typical notions of the materiality of museum collections, but are also associated with less material attributes, meanings and functions. As meaning is created through horse peoples' narratives, objects come to embody communicative practices, both typical and idiosyncratic. To be exhibited as collections in museums, objects chosen indicate how non-experts identify and characterize museum objects but also challenge experts to rethink and resituate boundaries that tend to separate objects and animals in classical expert-based displays. Analysis shows that among informants while picking objects are not easy, their narrated reflexions provide objects with positioned and personalized significances. The subject-object boundaries between horse, human and artifact are blurred. It is in the practice that identities are defined. This museological exploration of horse, human and artefact as relational materialities suggests new ways of representing human-animal relations in the museum. This takes form as new naturalcultural becomings sections, where the focus is on agentive mutuality and the interconnectedness of things, horses and humans.

panel P093
The meaning of horses: perspectives on intra-species communicative becoming