15 December 2015

Digitising the Museum Ethnographers Group Archive

Over the past six months ACE SSN funding has enabled MEG to undertake a major scanning initiative on its archive, and I feel very fortunate to have been the person engaging with the historic and personal documents held within this resource. The archive was transferred from Liverpool Museum to Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery by Adam Jaffer and Jen Walklate earlier in 2015 and consists of ten boxes. I was tasked with scanning as much of the archive as possible over an allotted 100 hours. Over this time, I have been able to work through approximately 60% of the correspondence and documents contained within the archive, creating over 1,000 PDFs that span the almost 40 years of MEGs existence, from its founding documents to more recent additions. It soon became clear that I would not be able to scan everything, so I have focused on digitizing the older material, predominantly from the 1980s. The support of Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery has been key to this work as they provided desk space off their main archive room to install the scanner, and set up a laptop.  Curator Adam Jaffer has also negotiated for the loan of an empty filing cabinet for MEG to use, and in 2016 the MEG committee will decide on how to improve the current physical sorting by transferring some of the box contents to this cabinet.

The archive contains evidence of the personal and business side of running MEG, and bears witness to the commitment of its members to ensure the group provides support for those working with and interested in anthropology and ethnography collections. It provides examples of the kind of issues faced working with collections, from repatriation requests to necessary specialist advice, highlighting the important role of the group within wider academic and museum circles within the sector, and the important connections MEG has made and the opportunities it has responded to.

The MEG committee is now debating how to improve the archive and would love there to be more photographs. Of the handful currently included several relate to the celebration of MEG’s 21st birthday in Manchester. See the photograph of the cake here (which sets the bar high for the 40th birthday cake in Manchester in 2016). If you are a MEG member, past or current, please do have a look in your work or personal photograph collections to see if any survive of MEG events or meetings. The current Chair of MEG, Antonia Lovelace, would love to hear from you. There are also only a few conference packs and contemporary brochures for museums that meetings took place at, and if you have been a lifelong member and have any of these old brochures these would also give context and colour to the typescripts of the meetings. MEG has agreed to support Claire Wintle at Brighton University, in her research project on ‘World Cultures Collections, UK Museums and Changing Britain, 1945-1980’. A bid has gone in to AHRC and the project is due to begin in October 2016. It will involve a close look at the MEG archive as well as interviews with key MEG member’s active in that period. Watch this space for news!

More details on the MEG archive and its development will be presented at the Manchester conference and AGM, on 18-19 April 2016. Below is an example of a piece from the archive from 1974-5.

By Olivia Maguire

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