Howard Morphy – The Displaced Local: multiple agency in the building of ethnographic collections

Event Date: 8 November 2013
BP Lecture Theatre

Clore Education Centre, British Museum
Great Russell Street, London WC1B 3DG





The Royal Anthropological Institute, London presents


Professor Howard Morphy (Professor of Anthropology and Director of the Research School of Humanities at the Australian National University) – The Displaced Local: multiple agency in the building of ethnographic collections

National Museums have always been both global and local, collecting widely and holding locally. Ethnographic collections provide a prime example, bringing together in a single institution collections representing different cultures from around the world. The recent globalization of museum discourse and practice has resulted in an inversion of this situation. Indigenous communities, the local cultures of original production, are regaining a degree of agency over the collections of their material culture that have been distributed globally. This has often been framed as a counter movement to the colonial processes that were entangled in the building of the collections. Such a perspective, however, can mask the agency and motivations of the builders of collections in the past and fail to recognize the transformational role that museums have played in ideational change. The lecture will focus on the motivations of Yolngu, Aboriginal Australians from Northern Australia, in collaborating with researchers and others in building collections over the past three-quarters of a century. This perspective from active engagement in the present provides a very different light on the past than one that subordinates the development of collections to the enterprise of a ‘colonial science’.

Introduction by Lissant Bolton (RAI and British Museum):




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