17 January 2019

Endangered Material Knowledge Programme.

The British Museum Department of Africa, Oceania and the Americas recently launched a new grant programme to fund documentation of critically endangered material knowledge systems across the globe, with a focus on non-western contexts. The Endangered Material Knowledge Programme (EMKP) is a major programme to help preserve the knowledge of endangered material practices for future generations. Societies around the globe are changing at an unprecedented rate, and specialist, locally-informed knowledge is in danger of being lost - knowledge that has helped communities thrive in unique environmental, social and cultural contexts. The programme will document what we might term the ‘made world’ and how people use, build, make and repair the natural resources around them to create their distinctive societies, homes and spaces. The scope of this work will be potentially huge – material practices can range from special events, to the production and use of everyday household items like cooking implements, agricultural tools or clothes, as well the houses and buildings that people occupy.

 Funded by Arcadia – a charitable trust of Lisbet Rausing and Peter Baldwin, grants will be available for digital recording of material practices, which will then be made publically available through an open access repository hosted by the Museum.

Small grants (c£15,000) and large grants (c £70,000) are available, and details of the programme and links to the application forms can be found on the British Museum website.

14 January 2019

Trading Images: Photography in the Niger Delta

Today we have another guestblog, this time Helen Anderson, Project Curator at the British Museum discusses what the museums photography collection reveals and also what it conceals.  If you wish to have a project, collection or object you are working on profiled on the MEG blog then please email web@museumethnographersgroup.org.uk  

Helen writes:

As a project curator in the Africa department at the British Museum, I have the pleasure of working on varied and interesting assignments. Over the past six months or so my focus has been identifying and cataloguing photographs attributed to the Nigerian photographer Jonathan Adagogo Green, dating to the late 19th/early 20th century of the Niger Delta.  Green ran his own studio in Bonny in the Niger Delta in 1891 until his early death in 1905 at 32 years old, and whose photographs became highly collectible by Europeans and Nigerians alike.
Jonathan Adagogo Green - At the Akquete (Akwete) Market  buying palm oil in calabashes.  (Af,A46.65 British Museum)

This photograph (one of Green’s) shows a European trader purchasing palm oil in a market in the Niger Delta, taken during the last decade of the 19th century and part of an album owned by a British palm oil trader.  The major production of palm oil lay in the interior of the Niger Delta, and oil was traded along the rivers to the ports on the coast where traders were based. The relationship between European traders in the ports and the Urhobo (or Sobo) peoples of the hinterland who produced the palm oil was mediated by local middlemen of the Delta region, the Itsekiri, some of whom became very wealthy. 

It is not always easy to understand the relationships between traders and local peoples in the Delta from the albums alone, but in the course of my research it has been possible to discover the identities and background of the owners of these albums, with surprising results. Palm oil traders could often live and work in the Niger Delta for many years, and their ongoing relationships with the Itsekiri went well beyond the economic. The stories uncovered so far show that some traders formed intimate relationships with local Itsekiri women, having children with them and, in some cases, engaging in complex sets of social and cultural relationships with local chiefs, even marrying their daughters.

Photographs can reveal a huge amount of information concerning the types of images people were collecting, the names of commercial photographers and how the same images can recur in different albums over periods of time. They demonstrate details of life for local peoples, European traders and colonial administrators. What they conceal are the specificities, the minutiae of how a palm oil trader from Liverpool marries an Itsekiri princess; what did it mean to be a child of mixed race parents in early 20th century Nigeria; to what extent did photograph albums act as a proxy for diaries, many traders never wrote down their experiences.  Our photographic collections are a valuable resource to think about the multifaceted histories and narratives at play in the Niger Delta during this complex period in history, using the camera lens as a prism through which to view these dynamic relationships.

17 December 2018

Job Opportunity: Research Assistant in Digital Archiving

Contract: fixed term for 8 months
Reference: 0407
Salary: starting at £29,515 and rising to £33,199 per annum, pro rata
Placed on: 7 December 2018
Closing date: 15 January 2019.  Applications must be received by midnight of the closing date. 
Expected interview date: 4 February 2019
Expected start date: 1 April 2019.

Job description

The University of Sussex is seeking to appoint a digital assistant to work on a new AHRC funded project, ‘Making African Connections from Sussex and Kent Museums:  Decolonial Futures for Colonial Collections’. The successful candidate will join a team of international scholars and curators engaged in a ground-breaking project that documents the little known historic African collections in South coast museums, focused on 3 specific collections of international significance originating in missionary, military and ethnographic encounters between 1890 and 1940 in Botswana, Sudan and the Namibia/Angola borderlands.
One of the project’s major outputs will be the creation of a digital archive based on the digitization of a minimum 600 artefacts. The Research Assistant’s primary role will be to work on this digital archiving aspect of the project, overseeing metadata capture and digitisation of analogue materials.  It will involve travel to the Royal Engineers Museum (Gillingham) and the Powell Cotton Museum (Birchington on Sea), as well as work at University of Sussex.
The successful candidate will have a Masters-level qualification in archiving and/or digital humanities as well as experience working on similar projects. In addition they will have a) Knowledge of African History and b) Experience of working in a Museum environment. They will be based in the Department of History within the School of History, Art History and Philosophy (HAHP) at the University of Sussex, and will be closely supported by the cross-disciplinary Sussex Humanities Lab (SHL).

Writing the Ethnological Museum - PhD Opportunity

Supervisory team: Dr Priya Gopal (Cambridge) and Professor Dan Hicks (Pitt Rivers Museum)
This collaborative project uses the historic inscription practices of the Pitt Rivers Museum as a lens through which to study the history and ongoing legacies of the knowledge made through colonialism in the context of the ethnographic museum. Primary material includes all writing practices involved in the functioning of the anthropological museum as an institution from 1884 to the present day: from vocabularies of people and thing to museum labels as a genre, a narratology of annual reports and accession books, a close reading of the card index and database, and the study of the diversity of practices of writing on objects. The hands of particular curators and collectors and the re-writing of museum displays will be put into dialogue with a broader set of questions about the relationships between objectification through material culture and representation through text.
In a cross-disciplinary perspective that brings literary analysis into dialogue with linguistic anthropology through material culture, the research  will involve a literary study of language, writing and speech acts as imperial technologies of objectification in the academy in the past, and a consideration of the scope for rereading and revision today.
Case studies will be drawn from across the geographical, temporal and disciplinary scope of the Pitt Rivers, from Asia and Africa to the Americas and Oceania, with regional or thematic focuses developing from the student’s own interests.
The research will be conducted at the intersection between a series of present themes in postcolonial literary and museum studies, including thinking about ‘voice’; the politics of representation/self-representation; technologies of writing; the making and unmaking of cultural, racial and gendered identities; archival silences and archival traces; reparative histories; the construction of narratives of self and other; the politics of the ‘contact zone’ and encounter and the question of ‘culture wars’; aesthetics and politics; the constitution and/or reframing of the archive; the politics of the particular and the universal; authority and authorship; narrative strategies and ‘narrativity’; (re)reading against the grain; and resistance, dialogics and rewriting.
The contemporary politics of empire and colonialism and their ongoing legacies will be central to the project, but in supple ways which allow for considerations of resistance, reflexivity and reconstitution. It might be possible, for instance, to consider the ways in which texts can function as colonial disciplinary and governance mechanisms while examining the possibilities for radical rewriting and re-imagining in the wake of empire. A number of questions might govern a study:
  • Can colonial documents/collections/practices be deployed towards new political claims or imaginings of community?
  • What forms of ‘epistemic co-operation’ might be possible in the reconstitution of collections or archives?
  • Can the collection(s) in question at all enable a revisioning of the relationship between the particular and the universal?
  • How might the voices of resistance be found in the interstices or margins of colonial knowledge?
  • Do the collections entrench epistemic scepticism or can they serve to provide reparative histories and knowledges?
  • In the process of ‘objectification’, does the ‘subject’ disappear entirely?
The student will have a background in literary studies, and a demonstrable interest in any aspect of postcolonial studies, archival studies, or anthropology. 
Application process:
For details of how to apply, please see: http://www.jobs.cam.ac.uk/job/19544/.  

Research Associate - Labelling Matters

Pitt Rivers Museum, South Parks Road, Oxford
Grade 7: £32,236 - £39,609 p.a.

16 December 2018

Job opportunity at Pitt Rivers Museum: Research Fellow

Research Fellow 
Pitt Rivers Museum, South Parks Road, Oxford
Grade 7: £32,236 - £39,609 p.a.

7 December 2018

Collections in Circulation: Mobile Museum Conference, 9-10 May 2019

C19th Japanese paper sample from Kew’s Economic Botany Collection
Registration has opened for this Conference, to be held at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, on Thursday 9th and Friday 10th May 2019.

The conference will bring together scholars from the UK and overseas with a shared interest in the mobility of museum collections, past and present. Their papers will address various aspects of the history of the circulation of objects and their re-mobilisation in the context of object exchange, educational projects and community engagement.

Confirmed speakers include Claudia Augustat, Paul Basu, Joshua Bell, Martha Fleming, Sally Gregory Kohlstedt, Luciana Martins, Wayne Modest, Catherine Nichols, Jude Philp, Daniel Simpson, Alice Stevenson and members of the Mobile Museum project team.

This conference is organised by the Mobile Museum project, a collaboration between Royal Holloway, University of London and the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.