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Accepted Paper:

Translating museums, from past to future: indigenous (self) representation in western India.   
Alice Tilche (University of Leicester)

Paper short abstract:

This paper explores the little known archives of Indian anthropology as found in regional and district-level Tribal Museums. It also examines the relationship between these collections and future oriented projects of self-representation and reform.

Paper long abstract:

Anthropologists have been increasingly interested in revisiting their past, by writing biographies of the discipline, restudying places and opening up archives to revaluation, critique and local communities. These have been necessary efforts for ethnographic collections to survive in the contemporary world, and ways for the discipline to consolidate its history after having eaten itself alive for decades.

The aims of this paper are twofold. The first is to throw light on the little-known archives of Indian anthropology as found in regional and district-level Tribal Research Institutes and Museums. The second is to explore the relationship between these collections and community projects of self-representation. Indigenous encounters with ethnographic museums have been described as politically charged: with anger at colonial misrepresentations, with grief at the loss of livelihoods and ancestral connections, and with emotions at reconnecting with a severed past. Drawing on research and curatorial work with Adivasi (tribal, indigenous) groups in western India, this paper suggests that the encounter with the archive is about imagining different futures rather than reviving the past. Adivasi curators often agreed (rather than disagreed) with official representations of their communities and, while arguing about compositional details, adopted them in making their own. This had to do with the internalisation of others' categories and with internal projects of betterment and socio-religious reform. The latter involved the codification of a public body of tradition that should remain 'other': a reminder of where people came from and a meter to measure how much they had changed.

Panel P098
[Re:]engagements: the ethnographic archive and its contemporary and future affordances
  Session 1