P100
Collections as Currency? Objects, Exchange, Values and Institutions

Convenors:
Jude Philp (University of Sydney)
Elizabeth Bonshek (British Museum)
Discussant:
Robert Foster (University of Rochester)
Format:
Panels
Location:
British Museum - Sackler A
Start time:
3 June, 2018 at 9:00
Session slots:
3

Short abstract:

Viewing museum collections as a form of currency opens up a space for the interrogation of museum practices. Papers will focus on how value is attributed, created and reassigned to objects at each moment from acquisition, to display, exchange, transfer and repatriation.

Long abstract:

The role of value in museums is a contentious issue. Globally, many museums are being required to assign a monetary value to individual objects and entire collections. Valuation is, however, not a novel process within the context of collecting institutions. In the foundation period, field acquisition often took place as a consequence of negotiated social relations through barter and mediated with trade goods. Moving to the museum objects were revalued through standard practices of registration, exhibition, or exchange, for example, as 'duplicates.' Cultural objects were exchanged for other cultural objects or for natural history specimens with regimes of relative values understood as a form of currency between different institutions. Benefitting from new concepts and approaches, object-centred research is unravelling the complex social relations surrounding the formation, development, use, and exhibition of museum collections in the 19th through to 21st centuries. Case studies will analyse the relative valuing of various types of collections (e.g., ethnographic, archaeology, art, natural history) within a broad set of contexts ranging from field collection, exhibition, exchanges, transfers and repatriation. Are there hierarchies of value in the way museums categorise objects and display ethnographic collections? How do these resonate today? One instance might be the shifting of artefact categories between art and the craft of the everyday. We explore exchange in context and through time - for example, exchanges of cultural objects for natural history; or use of duplicate specimens as currency to diversify collections. We invite papers that examine different concepts of value in museum collections.