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Accepted Paper:

Views of Java: what's in a collection?  
Alexandra Green (British Museum)

Paper short abstract:

From both European and local perspectives, this paper considers the various modes of ownership, perceptions of value, and exchange practices relating to objects that Sir Stamford Raffles collected on Java between 1811 and 1816 and which are now housed in the British Museum.

Paper long abstract:

During his time as Lieutenant-Governor of Java from 1811-1816, Raffles collected objects from contemporary society, as well as earlier Hindu-Buddhist bronze figures, stone heads, and more than 360 drawings of sites and sculptures. The objects demonstrate an attempt at thoroughness with large bodies of material, but ultimately there is little comprehensiveness in a particular subject. In various ways, all of these objects provide extensive information about Javanese and European societies and their beliefs and concepts. The collection also tells us substantially about Raffles: what he thought, understood, and planned; how he connected with his milieu and how he differed from it. Many collection histories focus upon the European interests, opportunities, and collecting methods, but Raffles' collection also subtly reveals interactions with local people through its shape: what was and what was not gathered together. This paper considers the various modes of ownership, perceptions of value, and exchange practices relating to the objects that Raffles collected from both European and local perspectives. In the process, it decolonises the material by revealing local contributions and the varying purposes behind Raffles' collecting. Gaps in the collection relate to historic events of which the Europeans had no knowledge, cultural constructs that they could not grasp, and local efforts to protect Islamic artefacts. There are also early examples of 'tourist art.' On his side, Raffles was not only trying to explain the Javanese to a European audience for the purpose of colonisation, but also promoting himself politically in Europe by demonstrating competence and expertise.

Panel P014
Representing 'Modern' Global, Local and Imperial Histories in Object-Centred Museums
  Session 1 Friday 1 June, 2018, -