Haidy Geismar: Digitality, Museums and Material Culture - Research Center for Material Culture
19 April 2018

Haidy Geismar: Digitality, Museums and Material Culture

Key Concepts Seminar | 19 Apr 2018 | RCMC

For the April 19th Key Concepts Seminar, Professor Haidy Geismar will discuss digitality in relation to museums and material culture.

From Material to Digital, or can you wear a digital cloak: new directions in material culture and museum studies

In this talk I discuss some new directions in material culture and museum studies focusing particularly on what happens as old collections are translated into new media through diverse processes of digitization. Drawing on my new book, Museum Object Lessons in the Digital Age (out May 7th with UCL Press) I describe a project in the UCL Ethnography Collections to digitize a beautiful Maori cloak. The project explored the cultural discourses that surround digital experiences and technologies, the expectation of visual indexicality in museums and its entanglement with Maori world views. 


Haidy Geismar is a Reader in Anthropology at UCL, where she also earner her PhD in Anthropology and Material Culture (2003). She has long term fieldwork experience in both the South Pacific and within museums, in the Pacific, North America and Europe where she has worked both with South Pacific and with photography collections. She is particularly interested in issues of intellectual and cultural property and how digital technologies are reorganizing knowledge systems within museums. Recently she has been researching the digitization of cultural collections, the incorporation of indigenous protocols into museum databases and she is in the early stages of a book looking at new practices and forms of digital photography. Dr. Geismar is also founder and chief editor of the Material World blog and has worked extensively with digital tools to enhance teaching and research practices.

She is a social anthropologist with a research interests in intellectual and cultural property, indigenous rights, new forms of cultural representation, the anthropology of art, critical museology and the South Pacific (especially Vanuatu and New Zealand). She now directs the Digital Anthropology programme at University College London and is also Vice-Dean for Education, co-curator of the UCL Ethnography Collections, and co-editor of the Journal of Material Culture.

Since 2000 Dr. Geismar has worked with the Vanuatu Cultural Centre, investigating the ways in which people from Vanuatu (ni-Vanuatu) work through the museum to generate powerful discourses about cultural value, which then extend into national marketplaces, village meeting grounds, and international performances and exhibitions. Since 2004, she has also been working in Aotearoa New Zealand, collaborating with curators to investigate alternative models of value for Maori cultural production in both museum and marketplace.

Dr. Geismar has researched and published on the international so-called “tribal” art market, the formation of value at auctions, the practice and form of indigenous contemporary art, the constitution of intellectual and cultural property in the Pacific and its relationship to discourses and practices of indigeneity, the entangled histories of photography and anthropology and its ongoing legacy, the social life of photographs, the theoretical purchase of material culture studies, and the politics of cultural property in museums. A preoccupation with the effects of digitization of all of these processes increasingly inflects her work.