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History of Collections
 

​My research on the history of collections can be broken down into four areas: 

  • Epistemological Problems between the history of collecting and material culture studies

  • The Mexican and Central American collections of the British Museum

  • Surveys of Ethnographic Collections in England and Scotland

  • The Collections of the UBC Museum of Anthropology

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Walk Among the Worlds UCLA Fowler - Phot
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Horniman Museum, Centenary Gallery, Lond

 

 

Collection’s history and material culture studies were established from opposed ends of the epistemological spectrum. While for a long time, collections history began with the story of the whims of collectors; material culture studies commenced with empirical descriptions of technical processes, object uses, markets, and mapping. Despite the clear connection between a collector's desires and the physical aspects of objects and materials, these two aspects remained disjointed. Beginning with the collector as a subject, I have attempted to connect the two sub-disciplines together and to relativize material culture. In this formulation material culture studies is embedded in a specific cultural idiom or the owner’s own narrative about technology, materials, and significances. This approach enables us to better understand the construction of selfhood through exterior visual expressions. This methodology is influenced by the new material culture studies at University College London, where I taught, and by the writings of Stephen Bann, Krzysztof Pomian, Michael Rowlands, and Danny Miller which acknowledge that objects are agentive.

 

I have written on different parts of the various museum collections of the British Museum, the Horniman Museum, the Royal Pavilion, Art Gallery and Museums, Brighton, and the UBC Museum of Anthropology. After carrying out research based on field visits to ethnographic collections throughout England and Scotland in 1992, I edited a two-volume work, which provided the first historical descriptions of some of the most important ethnographic collections held outside of national museums. I have also done surveys of collections in the Netherlands, Germany, Belgium, and Portugal and continue to be interested in collection history. I am planning to complete and publish my earlier research on the history of Brighton Museum’s ethnographic collections and the British Museum’s Mexican holdings.   


Publications
 

  • 1997: Group of Dance Crests, London, Horniman Museum. National Arts Collection Fund 1996 Review: 114.

 

  • 1990: Mesoamerica: The Mayan and Aztec Civilisation. In Treasures of the British Museum: Art and Man. Tokyo, Setagaya Art Museum with the Japan Broadcasting Company (NHK) and Asahi Shimbun: 177-203.

  • 2000: Preface. In K. Arnaut (ed.), Re-visions. New Perspectives on the African Collections of the Horniman Museum. London and Coimbra, The Horniman Museum and the Museu Antropologica da Universidade de Coimbra: 9-12.

  • 2001: Rational Passions. Frederick John Horniman and Institutional Collectors. In A. Shelton (ed.), Collectors. Expressions of Self and Others. London and Coimbra, The Horniman Museum and Museu Antropologica da Universidade de Coimbra: 205-223.

  • 2001: Introduction. The Return of the Subject. In A. Shelton (ed.), Collectors. Expressions of Self and Other. London and Coimbra, The Horniman Museum and Museu Antropologica da Universidade de Coimbra: 11-22.

  • 2001: Introduction. Doubts Affirmations. In A. Shelton (ed.), Collectors. Individuals and Institutions. London and Coimbra, The Horniman Museum and the Museu Antropologica da Universidade de Coimbra: 13-22.

  • 2001: The Ethnographic Collections of the Horniman Museum. A Descriptive Survey. In A. Shelton (ed.), Collectors. Individuals and Institutions. London and Coimbra, The Horniman Museum and Museu Antropologica da Universidade de Coimbra: 281-309.

  • 2009: (Co-editor, with C. Mayer), The Museum of Anthropology. Vancouver: Douglas & McIntyre Publishing.