Author:Elizabeth Bonshek (British Museum)
Paper short abstract:
What hierarchies of value are reflected in Sir William MacGregor's collection of clay pots in British New Guinea in the late 1800s? How might indigenous values be read at the sites of their acquisition, and what social relationships are reflected in the transaction of these pots and patterns?
Paper long abstract:
How are the hierarchies of value that inhabited the domain of the nineteenth century museum reflected in the acquisition of ceramic pots collected by Sir William MacGregor in British New Guinea during the late 1800s? What values were activated at the site of collection of these objects and were they commensurate with contemporary theories of material culture studies? Or do the transactions undertaken to acquire examples of material culture rather reflect more about the social relationships of the parties involved than about a contemporary theory of objects.
This paper traces the acquisition of a collection of pots from the north coast of Papua, and examines the multiple, and sometimes contradictory, interpretations of their worth from the perspective of the colonial explorer and investigates the possibilities for speculation upon the indigenous agency in the transactions that were at the forefront of a number of first contacts.
Collections as Currency? Objects, Exchange, Values and Institutions