Museum Affordances - RCMC

Museum Affordances

The RCMC is pleased to announce a new collaboration with Professor Paul Basu (SOAS), through his Museum Affordances Project. In 2020, the RCMC will host a workshop on the affordances of exhibitions and exhibitionary experimentation.

Museum Affordances

What do museums afford? What repertoires of action do they make possible? The Research Center for Material Culture is a partner in a 3-year project funded by the UK’s Arts & Humanities Research Council and led by Paul Basu, Professor of Anthropology at SOAS University of London, which is investigating the latent possibilities of museum collections, curatorial interventions and innovative exhibition practices. More particularly, the project explores how museums can activate ethnographic archives and collections assembled in the colonial era as catalysts for intercultural understanding, for recovery of lost histories, repairing past injustices, building relationships, exchanging knowledge and engaging creatively across social and cultural boundaries. Can such historical collections transcend the colonial contexts of their collection and be used as resources for decolonisation?

In pursuit of these objectives, the project is engaging in a programme of experimental museology, focused on a remarkable assemblage of objects, photographs, sound recordings, botanical specimens, fieldnotes and publications that constitute the legacy of a series of anthropological surveys undertaken by Northcote Whitridge Thomas (1868-1936). Thomas was the first professional anthropologist to be employed by the British colonial authorities to gather ethnographic data intended to support policies of indirect rule in West Africa. In this capacity he conducted three anthropological surveys in Southern Nigeria (1909-13) and one in Sierra Leone (1914-15). This endeavour was not considered a success by colonial governments at the time and Thomas’s collections and research materials were dispersed to various institutions, where they have largely lain dormant and inaccessible. Putting into practice a range of ‘museum methods’, the project investigates what happens when these archives and collections are reassembled, recirculated and reconfigured.

In order to contextualise the research with this particular colonial ethnographic archive in relation to other innovative work being undertaken internationally, as well as to consider how to translate such museological experimentation into practical recommendations that can be implemented in the museum sector more generally, a series of workshops will be taking place over the project. RCMC researchers will be participating in these workshops, and RCMC will itself be hosting the third workshop, in 2020. This will specifically address the affordances of exhibitions and exhibitionary experimentation.

For further information please see the project website.

Text: P. Basu