11 March 2015

The Gardens Pavilion at the Horniman Museum, London, was the setting for a recent (26-27 March 2015)  and extremely interesting and successful conference entitled ‘Weapons and the Anthropological Museum’ organised by Tom Crowley, Assistant Curator of Anthropology at the museum. In fact the conference, obviously, could really apply to any museum with a holding of weapons of any kind; the questions raised by the conference applied equally to arms from wherever-and whenever- they originated. The conference attracted some 40 participants who came from a number of institutions from around the world (such as France, Austria and the USA) which ranged from local authority museums, such as Brighton, to nationals, such as the Royal Museum for Central Africa, Brussels.

The presentations were of uniformly high quality and it is difficult to single out papers for special praise, but mention should be made of Stefanie Lotter’s (School of Oriental and African Studies) all-encompassing talk on ‘Wood, Vegetable, a Bull or the Head of an Enemy: A discussion of the khukuri’ and Shawn Rowland’s (Bard Graduate Centre and American Museum of Natural History) forensic and moving account  of ‘An Artefact of Violence?: Early twentieth century anthropology’s marginalisation of colonial violence, as evidenced by a west Australian Kimberley Plateau shield’, to name but two.

The conference was not only enjoyable and very well worthwhile but was thought provoking throughout, even if it didn’t exactly come to any firm conclusions about certain aspects of weapons, such as how to display the trauma of weapons; but such is the nature of the subject! But asking questions is a very good thing and in the hectic life of most museum workers today it seems that we have far too little time in which to be reflective and ‘think’ about things, and this event allowed that opportunity. It also made one consider both the multiple uses and meanings of the tool we call a ‘weapon’ and what constitutes such an implement. The conference papers are apparently going to be  published and there is also discussion of a subject specialist network being set up. The present reviewer, also a speaker at the event, must admit to coming out of the conference feeling quite enthused and inspired by the subject and discussions and was not alone in feeling this! One can’t ask for more out  of a conference and there was already discussion regarding the possibility of a ‘Weapons II’ at some point in the future.

Robert C Woosnam-Savage, Curator of European Edged Weapons
Executive Board Member ICOMAM

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