Accepted paper:

Panel Introduction: Reactivating ethnobotanical collections in the Anthropology Museum


Alison Clark (National Museums Scotland)
Inbal Livne (Powell-Cotton Museum)

Paper short abstract:

Considering the interplay between natural history and anthropology collecting, this introductory paper introduces the re-emerging interest in Indigenous ecology and the value of ethnobotanical collections located in anthropology museums.

Paper long abstract:

Many anthropology museums contain collections often considered the domain of botanical gardens or natural history museums. Often termed 'orphan collections', they can be mobilised by anthropologists, zoologists and botanists. These collections often languish, as anthropology museums struggle with how to research and curate these collections. As objects, they reveal the limitations of rigid systems underpinning the classification of knowledge. In the last five to ten years, there has been an emerging and well-deserved recognition of the agency of Indigenous people in collecting and documenting anthropological, zoological and botanical material. Specifically, this scholarship has highlighted the existence of pre-colonial Indigenous systems of land management and zoological knowledge, as well as its influence on the development of European scientific knowledge. This paper builds on this re-emerging interest in Indigenous ecology and the limited scholarship on the value of these 'orphaned' collections located in anthropology museums, situating itself within current debates on decolonising the practice and method of museum work. We will also discuss the interplay between natural history and anthropology collecting and collections, with a focus on ethnobotanical collections in the Powell Cotton Museum, the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology Cambridge, and National Museums Scotland.

panel AM02
Reactivating Ethnobotanical Collections in the Anthropology Museum