This panel will explore the role of material and visual culture, particularly Indigenous artefacts and records, in colonial archives and museums. We seek to highlight how considering unconventional or under-studied archival records can lead to new insights into colonial and Indigenous histories.
Since contact, objects and records of various kinds have circulated between explorers, settlers, field researchers, and Indigenous groups. Are the power dynamics embedded in these objects neutralized once they have entered colonial archives? This panel will explore the assumptions underpinning Western archiving processes. These include not only acts of physical preservation in formal institutional spaces, but also the memorialization (and forgetting) of art, visual and material cultures. We are also interested in the way that archives, both physical and imagined, continue to shape individual, regional, national, and global identities.
The co-conveners will each present case studies of the place of material culture in the holdings of institutional archives. Art Historian Dr. Mona Holmlund will consider visual culture from a region conventionally excluded from Western art histories: Saskatchewan, Canada. Archivist Cheryl Avery will present examples of Indigenous presence hidden in Western record management and archival practices. History PhD student Katherine Crooks will reflect on the exchange of objects and knowledge between First Nations communities and field researchers in nineteenth-century Canada, as well as the contemporary implications of housing Indigenous artefacts in colonial museums. This panel welcomes Indigenous scholars in particular, and other researchers interested in discussing any aspect of material culture in its relationship to colonial archives or museums, and the potential for decolonizing these spaces.