31 October 2019

Jobs: Move manager and Collections Team Coordinator at MAA, Cambridge

The Museum of Archaeology & Anthropology (MAA) is hiring for two new full-time posts on a major collections project. We are seeking a Move Manager and a Collections Team coordinator to deliver an ambitious and complex relocation of all collections in offsite storage to a new facility in central Cambridge.
The University of Cambridge is supporting the relocation of MAA's off-site collections stores to a former Cold War bunker; with refurbishment works to be complete by the end of 2020. Over 5 years the Project Team - a Move Manager, Collections Team Coordinator and Collections Assistants - will inventory, hazard check, and make digital images of approximately 250,000 archaeological and ethnographic artefacts; pack appropriately for removal and storage; and ensure their safe transport and rehousing in the new store. Our goal is to ensure that the collections are both appropriately stored and made physically and intellectually accessible: to researchers, students, stakeholders and audiences in Cambridge and worldwide, through visits to the new store and online through MAA's catalogue.

To spearhead this project, MAA is currently recruiting a Move Manager and a Collections Team Coordinator who will oversee the move and the day-to-day collections work. We plan to begin recruiting a team of Collections Assistants in early 2020. Details of two roles can be found at the University of Cambridge Jobs pages: 

This will be a really intensive project with challenging objectives, and team cohesion in a respectful working environment is a priority. MAA and the University of Cambridge Museums are committed to equality, diversity and inclusion within our institutions and across the sector, and we particularly welcome applications from black and minority ethnic candidates as they are under-represented within the Museum and the University. We welcome applications from individuals who wish to be considered for part-time working or other flexible working arrangements.

The closing date for applications is Wednesday 27 November with interviews expected to take place week commencing 9 December 2019. It is hoped that the successful candidate will take up the appointment as soon as possible after 1 January 2020.

Request for Assistance: Wampum in the UK

PRM 1886.1.833, courtesy of Pitt Rivers Museum
Laura Peers, Pitt Rivers Museum writes:

As part of the Mayflower 400 commemoration supported by Arts Council England, I am seeking to locate all known examples of historic wampum from North America held in England. Wampum is an Indigenous material derived from whelk and quahog shells harvested along the eastern shores of North America and used to produce small white and purple beads strung or woven into collars, bands, and belts. Historically, wampum strands and strings were used for condolence or adornment. Wampum belts were woven with designs that recorded historic alliances and agreements among Indigenous and European nations during the colonial period.
My research collaborator, Dr. Margaret Bruchac from the University of Pennsylvania, directs the “Wampum Trail” project, a wide-ranging survey of wampum in more than 30 museums across North America, the UK and Europe. She also consults with Native American and First Nations communities (e.g., Deyoha:háge Indigenous Knowledge Centre, Mohegan Nation, Haudenosaunee Standing Committee, Kanesatake Mohawk Nation) on cultural heritage.
The research project, which is funded by Arts Council England as part of the Mayflower 400 commemoration, will provide additional information to the museums in England that currently care for wampum, as well as to the Indigenous nations who require access to heritage items. It will lead to a symposium in 2020 bringing together Indigenous knowledge-keepers and UK museum professionals to discuss wampum history, materiality, and artistry.
As project co-researcher, I am writing to you, seeking to locate all known examples of historic wampum housed in English museums and repositories, including any clues to wampum that may be housed in private collections. Please can you assist? 
Please contact me at: laura.peers@prm.ox.ac.uk

27 October 2019

Appeal for Information on John Hewitt and Ethnographic Collections from Sarawak in the UK

Rosanna Nicolson, NMS is looking for some information, she writes: 

Over the last nine months I have done some provenance research on National Museums Scotland (NMS) collection of around 500 objects from Borneo. I recently presented a paper at the European Association for Southeast Asian Studies conference in Berlin titled 'Advantageous Opportunities: Securing Objects from Borneo for Scotland's National Museum' to share some of my findings.

One of these collections purchased by NMS in 1909 was the purchase of eighty ethnographic items from John Hewitt (1880-1961), the Curator of the Sarawak Museum in Kuching, East Malaysia, from 1905 to 1908.

Hewitt was originally from Dronfield, near Sheffield, and NMS must have purchased this collection whilst he was briefly back in the UK before leaving for a new museum post in South Africa. He was appointed the Director of the Albany Museum in Grahamstown in 1910 where he worked until his retirement in 1958.  

As a zoologist it seems likely Hewitt's link with NMS initially came through our Natural Sciences department as we purchased thousands of specimens from him. However, I think that ours could be the only ethnographic collection assembled during his time in Sarawak and brought to the UK.

There appears to be very little supplementary or archival information about John Hewitt's time at the Sarawak Museum. However, many of the objects have a handwritten label with a number which presumably corresponded to an inventory compiled by him. One can assume that once this information was transferred to the register the original list was discarded.

The collection formed by Hewitt that’s now in Edinburgh includes models and spirit figures, wood carvings, basketry, domestic utensils, betel chewing equipment, musical instruments, personal ornamentation, and examples of weaving and dying tools and processes as well as finished textiles. 

 Basket A.1909.330   
    Cap of plaited rattan A.1909.365

Annual reports for the Sarawak Museum during Hewitt's time as Curator mention similar types of material in their lists of acquisitions. Many of which could have been specifically commissioned for the museum. For example, a group of Melanau spirit figures (dakan) about which Hewitt co-authored an article with A. E. Lawrence (Resident of Mukah) titled 'Some Aspects of Spirit Worship Amongst the Milano of Sarawak' published in JRAI in 1908 (Vol. 38, pp.388-408).

The Melanau produced a whole range of spirit figures, called dakan, carved out of softwood or sago pith. These figures were used to heal the sick so they had to have the correct characteristics and attributes to be easily recognizable, for example as a spirit which causes headaches and fevers. Arm position, headgear, facial expression, and clothing indicated which of the many spirits the dakan was supposed to represent. After a ritual was performed to cure the sickness, the spirit figures were returned to their own domain, either in the jungle, the air or the water.

The Sarawak Museum's Annual Report for 1906 lists 'one complete set of 'Dakan' from Mukah. […] which number in all about 80 […] This collection, which was obtained for us by Mr. A. E. Lawrence, is the most interesting addition to our collection for some years' (p.9). It seems likely that the figures now in Edinburgh were also acquired by Mr Lawrence and were extras or duplicates not needed for the Sarawak Museum's collection.

Another example is a set of Iban (Sea Dayak) wood carvings documenting different patterns and their names. The Sarawak Museum's Annual Report for 1907 lists two different groups of wood carvings acquired during that year, one being 'Sea Dayak carving executed by Sarawak rangers from the Undup region.' Interestingly one example in our collection is said to be a copy of the Kayan asu (dog/dragon) pattern, so a design predominantly used but another cultural group.

Sadly, as no correspondence survives, we don’t know whether the curator in Edinburgh asked Hewitt to assemble an ethnographic collection representative of the indigenous peoples and cultures in Sarawak for the museum, or if Hewitt was just trying to sell this material before moving to South Africa. The answer to this may become clearer if I can establish whether any other UK collections purchased, or were given, ethnographic artefacts from Hewitt.

I would also very interested to find out more generally about other UK holdings of material from what was formally British North Borneo (Sabah) and Sarawak.

Please contact me on r.nicolson@nms.ac.uk or 0131 247 4184.   

Request for Information - Treaty Medals taken from ‘rebel bands’ by General Middleton, 1885

Kevin Seesequasis (c-c-kway-sis), an elected Councillor for the government of the Beardy’s &
Okemasis’ Cree Nation in central Saskatchewan, Canada, is hoping to locate 1876 Treaty Medals.

The government presented Treaty Medals to many First Nations leaders if they signed up to Treaty 6 with the colonial government, in 1876. 

In 1885, Major-General Middleton, the commander of the expeditionary force that fought against the Metis in the Northwest Rebellion, seized the Treaty Medals of the so called ‘rebel bands’ of First Nations, believing that they aided the Metis in their uprising against the Canadian government.

These medals have never been returned to their rightful owners, the Cree leaders of the First Nations the ‘rebels’ led. There is an effort underway in Canada among First Nations leadership to repatriate these Treaty 6 medals.

Specifically they are looking for the medals presented to Chiefs Beardy and Saswaypew at the signing of adhesion to Treaty 6 on August 28, 1876.

The confiscated Treaty Medals have not been traced in Canadian museums. When Major- General (later Lieutenant -General) Middleton returned to Britain in 1890 it is believed that he brought the medals with him.  He was appointed Keeper of the Crown Jewels at the Tower of London in 1896 and died in 1898.

Any information on their current whereabouts gratefully received.
Please contact Kevin Seesequasis  via communications@beardysband.com