My early articles are nearly all focused on aspects of the Wixarika of northwest Mexico or on the colonial underpinning of museums and museum ethnography. As I became more familiar with institutional collections, my interests widened to include collections history and Mesoamerican and Northwest Mexican conceptual systems. These two interests intersected in a number of articles, published and unpublished on methodological problems underlying early 20th century anthropological discourses on Indigenous civilizations and their display in anthropology museums.
An interest in the largely unpublished histories of Britain’s provincial ethnographic collections, led to my two edited volumes on collectors. The chance discovery of a Mexica earth deity, Cihuateteo, in the garden of a Scottish estate (later acquired by the British Museum) led to my two articles on its significance and my re-occurrent interest in this class of deities. The pre-Columbian Mexican collections of the British Museum provided the subject of another book, published in Japanese only. Other chapters and articles on the British Museum’s collections examined Mexica/Mixtec turquoise mosaics, and Mexican and South American masks and jewelry. Later books and articles documented and interpreted the Horniman’s collections and the African, Iberian and Latin American collections of the UBC Museum of Anthropology. The notes I made in the early 1990s on the collections of Brighton Museum are still to be published. A growing interest in museology, material culture and collection history led to the long essay, The Collectors Zeal, which attempted to replace the dominance of positivist approaches to material culture studies with experiential and subjectivist methodologies. My later formulation of critical museology grew out of these earlier critical and descriptive essays on museums, exhibitions and collections history.
Over the past five years my attention has been focused on the power and nature of object-images. The project, Writing from Images (2014-2021), resulted in three volumes that examine metaphysical and ontological categories inherent in specific materials and the way they are mobilized by particular political/religious regimes. Volume one, Heaven, Hell and Somewhere In Between: Portuguese Popular Art (2015) focuses especially on object-images, changes in world views and political mobilization. Volume two, Theatrum Mundi. Masks and Masquerades in Mexico and the Andes (2021) explores different discourses and meanings attributed to masks; competing discourses on their epistemological significance and ontological effects, and the strategies and descritptors underlying the misrecognition of value and authenticity. Volume three, Under Different Moons; African Art in Conversation, focuses on the performative mobilization of object-images and their relational meanings.
In 2021, I wrote two books, A Short History of Things and A Short Hisotry of Things Two, as presents for my family. These use the theoretical approach I have developed in my academic writings to interpret our home and my life as a collector.