9 June 2019

British Museum Vacancy for Project Curator: West Africa Bronze Casting Traditions Project

Role Summary

Project Curator: West African Bronze Casting Traditions Project
Africa, Oceania and the Americas
Full time
Fixed term (23 months in duration)
£29,607 per annum
Application deadline: 12 Noon on Wednesday 3 July 2019
The British Museum is seeking to appoint a Project Curator to work on the West African Bronze Casting Traditions project. This Project Curator role will undertake essential collection documentation and research on the Museum’s collection of West African bronzes.  This project and the position will involve wider research of the breadth of West African bronze casting traditions and laying the foundations for a major new research project.
Key areas of responsibility:
  • To upgrade the documentation of the Museum’s holdings of West African bronzes, with a focus on Nigeria
  • To research the broader context of the collection, including collection histories, related objects in the collection, and the histories of bronze casting traditions in West Africa as revealed by the collection
  • To make the collection, and knowledge about it, publicly accessible via publication, digital media, exhibition display, and broadcast media
  • To liaise with project partners in West Africa and in the UK, along with other international partners
  • To co-ordinate scientific research on the collections, including liaising with colleagues within the Museum.

[Re:]Entanglements: Re-engaging a colonial archive in postcolonial times

This week we have another project profile on the MEG blog, Theo Borgvin-Weiss (Project Research Associate & PhD Candidate, University of Cambridge) has written about [Re:]Entanglements.  If you would like us to profile a project you are working on then please email web@museumethnographers.org.uk

Between 1909 and 1915 the British Colonial Office in London despatched Northcote Thomas, a Cambridge history graduate and folklorist, to Southern Nigeria and Sierra Leone to conduct a series of surveys of the region’s people and ‘customary laws’. Thomas’ tours were conducted against a background of colonial anxiety over how best to govern the region, so were intended to inform British policies of indirect rule. At the same time, Thomas’ close and prolonged engagement with local people proved to be an important (albeit controversial) moment in the development of academic anthropology. The significance of Thomas’s work, including the extensive ethnographic archives that he and his local assistants amassed, has, however, remained largely unexamined until now.

[Re:]Entanglements, an ongoing 3-year project led by Paul Basu of SOAS and part of the AHRC-funded ‘MuseumAffordances’ project, aims to better understand the material legacies of Thomas’s surveys – comprising photographs, sound recordings, artefacts, botanical specimens, fieldnotes and reports – and to rethink their significance today. The project involves participants from Nigeria, Sierra Leone and the UK, each bringing different perspectives to bear on the collection. In doing so, the aim is to explore both what functions Thomas’ collecting and documentation activities were intended to perform at the time of their creation and, crucially, what value such a rich but colonially-implicated archive might have in the present – within modern-day Nigeria, Sierra Leone and Britain. By confronting the problematics of this collection, the project explores whether, as a resource, it nevertheless contains latent possibilities for decolonisation and repair.
Phonographic sound recording, Agila, Present-day Benue state, Nigeria.  Photograph by Northcote Thomas, 1913
 MAA P.32756

[A selection of flutes collected by Northcote Thomas during surveys of Edo- and Igbo-speaking communities in the collections of the University of Cambridge Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.]

Given that Thomas was the first Government Anthropologist appointed by the British Colonial Office to study Africa, his three expeditions to Southern Nigeria (1909-13) and final tour in Sierra Leone (1914-15) represent early experiments in government-sponsored ethnography and reflect ongoing negotiations between the production of knowledge and power. His expeditions were important test-cases, establishing what practical application the nascent academic discipline of anthropology might have for colonial governance. But they also reveal ongoing tensions between Colonial Office policy makers in London and the colonial governments in West Africa, in which the latter were often strongly resistant to outside interference. As things turned out, the information produced by Thomas’s surveys was not easily translatable into practical action and the experiment was widely perceived as a failure. As a result, this rich archive drifted into relative obscurity.

Mask collected by Northcote Thomas in Ibillo, Nigeria, in 1910. MAA Z 26531.

During 55 months of fieldwork over 6 years, Thomas and his assistants recorded both the artistic and everyday – often capturing intimate aspects of local life. He and his team amassed vast amounts of information - making thousands of photographs, producing hundreds of wax-cylinder phonograph recordings, and collecting botanical specimens as well as both ceremonial and everyday objects – acquired mainly via purchase and direct commission. Thomas published his findings in a series of multi-volume reports and academic articles. Today, this fascinating multimedia archive is dispersed across numerous institutions, including the University of Cambridge Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology (MAA), the British Library, the Royal Anthropological Institute, and the National Museum Lagos, among others – all partners in the project.

The first stage of the [Re:]Entanglements project catalogued and researched the collection itself, bringing the widely-scattered sound, image and object collections together for the first time in over 100 years. Collections-based research has generated several specific studies, covering subjects such as the Igugu masquerades of southeast Nigeria, Thomas’ documentation of a wrestling festival in the North Edo town of Otuo, and modern-day facial scarification (Ichi) ceremonies in Anambra State – all reported on the project blog. In the UK, UCL Museum Conservation students are currently preparing objects from the collection for exhibitions at SOAS’s Brunei Gallery (2020) and the University of Cambridge Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology (2021). Meanwhile, the collections-based research is also informing current fieldwork activities in Nigeria and Sierra Leone.
Postdoctoral researcher George Agbo and traditional Igbo carver Chief Anaemena discuss photographs of wood carvings collected by Northcote Thomas in 1911

Traditional wood carver, Felix Ekhator, in his workshop in Sakponba Road, Benin City.

An important aspect of the project, now in its second year, is engaging with communities in areas where Thomas worked more than a century ago. Given the range of technologies utilised by Thomas and the precision of his fieldnotes, it has often been possible to pinpoint specific source locations. Consequently, Paul Basu and postdoctoral research assistant George Agbo have been retracing Thomas’ itineraries, sharing photographs and recordings made by Thomas with local people. This has produced interesting results. For instance, with musical instruments – where recordings made in the early 20th century have been played to current Sierra Leonean musicians, prompting discussion of change and continuity in style and instrumentation. A further study considered developments in wood-carving technique through discussions with carvers from Benin City, who responded to examples collected in the region over a century ago.

Impromptu exhibition of Northcote Thomas’s photographs in Musaia, northern Sierra Leone. Photograph by Paul Basu.

In its third and final year, [Re:]Entanglements will explore its key themes through exhibition experiments, art and film in order to engage with the collection directly and to capture contemporary responses to it. So far, the British-Nigerian artist ChiadikĊbi Nwaubani has offered a series of poignant responses to Thomas’ photographs. Workshops have taken place in Benin City, Nsukka and Freetown, where artists are currently producing work in response to the archives and collections. In the UK, a filmproject entitled Faces|Voices  records the reactions of members of African heritage communities in the UK to ‘physical type’ photographic portraits made by Thomas, capturing powerfully the varied – and often surprising – responses that contemporary voices can bring to bear on ethnographic collections, their colonial entanglements and their potential legacies.

To follow the [Re:]Entanglements project and or to get involved with discussions see the project blog or join the project’s Facebook group .

Folklore Society - change of address

At the end of July, The Folklore Society office will move from The Warburg Institute to c/o The Royal Anthropological Institute, 50 Fitzroy Street, London W1T 
They will still have a reference collection there for visitors to browse, and a librarian to assist with folklore enquiries.

Museums and Migration: A Multaka-Oxford Networking Day

How can museums and heritage organisations support forced migrants settling in the UK?
How does this develop more inclusive working practices and programmes?
How does cross-sectoral partnerships develop mutual beneficial opportunities for all stakeholders?

The Multaka-Oxford project are running a networking day to bring together the heritage sector, organisations working with forced migrants, volunteers and the voluntary sector to share experience and learning to develop best practice. The day will focus on access to and the benefits of cross-sectoral partnerships to provide opportunities in cultural and heritage spaces for forced migrants to volunteer for work experience and wellbeing whilst reflecting on how this develops more inclusive working practice and programmes.  

With a focus on the value of volunteering for employability and wellbeing there will be talks and skills-share workshops from:

-         Multaka volunteers (Multaka-Oxford Pitt Rivers and History Of Science Museum)
-         Refugee Resource (Oxford)
-         Connection Support (Oxford)
-         Oxfam Future Skills Programme (Oxford)
-         Aspire (Oxford)
-         The Wallace Collection (London)
-         Migration Museum (London)

Free but booking is essential

27 May 2019

Change Studentship for a BAME student (MA Curating Collections and Heritage, University of Brighton))

The Change Studentship will be awarded to a black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) Curating Collections and Heritage MA applicant.

It is one award for 2019 covering postgraduate course fees (£6,426 GBP) and travel expenses to access a mentoring programme organised by the university. The studentship is open to those already working in the museums and heritage sector, as well as to new entrants, and applicants can study full time or part time.

The award has been developed to help promote diversity in museums. Recent research has shown that less than 5% of the UK’s museum and heritage curators are black, Asian or minority ethnic. This award is intended to help a wider range of people consider or continue a career in the sector and support museums and heritage organisations to become more representative of our society.

21 May 2019

Caught in the Net - Lynette Griffiths and Marion Geomers.

An exhibition of ghost net sculptures by Erub Artists, 
13 June - 27 July 2019 JGM Gallery 24 
Howe Street London SW11 4AY

Artist from the Erub Arts Centre in the Torres Strait have been re-claiming 
the abandoned fishing nets that wash up on their shores and using the 
plastic waste to create amazing sculptures of the marine life under threat.
Erub Artists with a large ghost net sculpture in the form of a 
turtle. They are standing on Sao Cay with Erub Island in the background. 
Photo Lynette Griffiths and Erub Arts. 2017

26 April 2019

‘Such intimate relations’: on the process of collecting string figures and the paradigm of participant observation fieldwork

The inaugural Kings College Australian National Fellows Seminar is taking place on Wednesday 8 May 2019, 18:00 – 20:00 BST

Kings College London Bush House
Bush House South East
Room (SE) 101

Dr. Robyn McKenzie  will speak on ‘Such intimate relations’: on the process of collecting string figures and the paradigm of participant observation fieldwork

She writes:

The publication of Haddon and Rivers’ article “A method of recording string figures and tricks” in the Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute Man in 1902, led to a knowledge of a few types, and ability to record others becoming part of the anthropologist’s tool kit. Haddon attributed much of his fieldwork success to his knowledge of string figures as a medium for interacting with people and creating rapport. This paper focuses on his 1914 trip to the Torres Strait and New Guinea with his daughter Kathleen, and her account of her own experiences collecting string figures in the unpublished manuscript ‘An English Girl in New Guinea’. On this trip the Haddons visited Malinowski, then on the island of Mailu, occasioning a comparison between the two men’s approaches in the field.

I argue that the practice of collecting string figures in many ways confounds distinctions that are made between the surface ethnography of the nineteenth century survey approach to fieldwork and the depth of the intensive study as it developed into the classical paradigm of participant observation in the twentieth century. By looking at just what was involved in collecting string figures I show how it pre-empts the ‘somatic turn’ in anthropology of the 1980s when Michael Jackson for example recommended ‘using one’s body in the same way as others in the same environment’ as a ‘methodological strategy’ for mediating anthropological insights. Above all, I argue, it established an immediate intimacy of relationship—a mutual sympathy—the sought-after goal of the participant observation method.

Dr. Robyn McKenzie is a Research Fellow in the School of Archaeology and Anthropology at the Australian National University in Canberra. She initially trained in Art History at the University of Melbourne. She has published extensively on contemporary Australian art. She was art critic on The Age newspaper in Melbourne for a number of years in the mid-1990s and from 1996–2002, was editor of LIKE, Art Magazine. Her PhD, completed in 2016, looked at a collection of mounted string figures made in Yirrkala in north-east Arnhem Land in 1948, that is in the Australian Museum, Sydney. Robyn is currently the inaugural Australian National Fellow at the Menzies Australia Institute, King’s College, London.

10 April 2019

MEG Committee posts

We need people to put themselves forward for two Committee posts, Secretary and Membership Officer. 

MEG is run by a committee elected by members at the AGM. There will be two vacancies falling due this year.   If you would like to be more involved in MEG we would be happy to hear from you.  All that is needed is an enthusiasm for museum ethnography, knowledge and concerns for the issues affecting the sector and a willingness to be involved. 

The MEG Committee can have eight elected members, and the Committee can co-opt an additional three members.  We meet three times a year, usually in London.  Members without institutional support can claim expenses for attending meetings.

Of the current Committee, the Chair, Treasurer, Events Officer and Web Officer all continue their term of office and are not up for election or re-election this year, ditto two committee members.

Due to work pressures, the Secretary and Membership Officer are standing down, so replacements are needed.  Polly Bence will take over as interim Membership Officer, but we do need a Secretary and a Membership Officer.

The Committee has these two elected vacancies to fill.  Any volunteers, please?  Both are vital to the running of MEG.  The posts are for a three-year term in the first instance, with the Secretary being eligible for two further terms if they are willing, and the Membership Officer for a further one term.

There are two proposals for the Committee – Adam Jaffer and Sushma Jansari.  Neither can take on the officer roles at the moment, which should be elected, so it is proposed that they be co-opted for a three-year term.

MEG relies on members to keep it running and keep it relevant, so please consider putting yourself forward. 

sue giles
Chair MEG

9 April 2019

Call for Papers: “Museums Different,” Second Biennial Conference of the Council for Museum Anthropology

Location: Santa Fe, New Mexico
Dates: September 19 – September 21, 2019
Deadlines: June 1, 2019 midnight MST

The Council for Museum Anthropology’s second biennial conference will take place in Santa Fe, New Mexico from Thursday, September 19th through Saturday, September 21st, 2019. Using the unique position of Santa Fe -- the “City Different” -- as a starting point for thinking broadly about both local and global approaches to museum anthropology, the conference theme is “Museums Different.” We will build off the theme and conversations from our first conference, “Museum Anthropology Futures,” held in May 2017 at Concordia University in Montreal.

**Please take note of the conference’s date change.**

The conference is based on Santa Fe’s Museum Hill, home to both the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture/Laboratory of Anthropology and the Museum of International Folk Art. The conference includes sessions and activities at the Institute of American Indian Arts as well as an evening reception at the School for Advanced Research.

Call for Papers: Join CMA as we discuss imagined and practical realities of collaboration between anthropology, museums, and communities. With the goal of overcoming institutional silences and so-called mute collections, this conference is about the spaces between the objects on museum shelves and the communities who created them.  The conference will focus on how institutions can close the gaps between the theoretical and ‘doing.’

We welcome proposals and submissions from museum practitioners, scholars, students, Tribal Historic Preservation officers, artists, and all community members. If you are unsure if you or your work would fit into our conference, please reach out and ask. We are more than happy to talk you through your ideas. 

Session Formats & Proposals: We are looking to highlight innovative ways of presenting anthropological museum work, and are particularly interested in ways in which your presentation format can contribute to community engagement. Please send us ideas for innovative ways to express your research -- whether it be artist dialogues, roundtables, posters, pop-up exhibitions, workshops, pre-circulated papers, Pecha-Kucha-style sessions, problem-solving sessions, installation works, or anything else you can think of. Nothing is too bold -- we will do our best to accommodate your ideas.

Focus: Sessions should explore the imagined and the realities of working between anthropology, museums, and communities. Proposals do not have to respond to the below questions. We are excited to hear how anthropology works where you are. 

        What work have we already completed?  How does engagement with the histories of museum anthropology affect our work? How does it make it better or worse? How can we mobilize our institutional pasts to inform and better our community futures?
        What are the ways in which museum anthropology can better collaborate with communities? How can we and do we live up to our ideals?

        What does collaboration mean in a day-to-day sense?

        What are the unintended consequences of collaborative, community-based museum anthropology?
        What does decolonizing work mean to you, to your collaborators, and in your contexts?
        What might we stop doing? What hasn’t worked?
Registration and Cost: Registration will open in the coming weeks, and will be available on our soon-to-launch conference website. The conference fee is $125 per person, $60 per student, and $60 per THPO Office.

Funding Opportunities: The Council for Museum Anthropology has limited funding available for student travel. We are offering three grants of $400 each. To apply, please send us a resume/CV and a 500 word statement demonstrating how attendance at the conference will advance your academic or professional goals.

Submission Guidelines and Deadlines: Submissions must be no more than 100 words. All proposals and funding applications are due on June 1, 2019 midnight MST. Applicants will be notified by July 15, 2019. To submit, please send your proposal and preferred presentation format to cmaconference2019@gmail.com. Please submit your proposal and preferred presentation format the body of the email, rather than as an attachment.

About CMA: A section of the American Anthropological Association, the Council for Museum Anthropology is an all-volunteer membership organization that serves anthropologists and museum professionals. CMA’s mission is to foster the development of anthropology in the context of museums and related institutions. See the CMA’s website (https://museumanthropology.org) and blog (https://www.museumanthropologyblog.com) for more information.