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Accepted Paper:

Reworking the archive: African agency and the Sinthumule presentation at the British Museum  

Author:

Catherine Elliott Weinberg (University of East Anglia)

Paper short abstract:

During a 1929 visit to Chief Sinthumule in South Africa, British Museum curator, H.J. Braunholtz was presented with a small collection of objects. Regarded as ethnographic, African agency in the formation of the collection has been obscured, but for recent research in the archive.

Paper long abstract:

In 1929 British Museum (BM) curator of ethnography, H.J. Braunholtz, visited South Africa as a delegate of the British Association for the Advancement of Science whose annual meeting was being held there that year. Following the sessions, Braunholtz and some colleagues travelled north to Great Zimbabwe, stopping en route at the so-called ‘native location’ of Sinthumule, then chief of the Western Venda. Here Braunholtz, representing the BM, was presented with a group of ‘nice old “pieces”’. Once at the Museum, the items were ‘ethnographised’, which entailed stressing their ‘tribal’ and European field-collector/donor provenance, effectively obscuring African agency in forming the collection. Treating the Museum collection as archive, and with reference to the Sinthumule case study, this paper draws on recent scholarship and offers a methodological approach for recovering traces of indigenous agency in ethnographic collections. The reworked archive emerges as a productive space, enabling stories of agency hitherto untold.

Panel AM03a
Objects, archives and their stories: unsettling colonial certainties