Steamships to Suffragettes

A Case Study of Interpretative Museology, Public Engagement, and Digital Development

in Museum Worlds
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  • 1 Western Australian Museum nicolas.bigourdan@museum.wa.gov.au
  • 2 Tempus Archaeology temparch@bigpond.net.au
  • 3 Western Australian Museum michael.mccarthy@museum.wa.gov.au
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ABSTRACT

Since 1985 the shipwreck site and related artifacts from the steamship SS Xantho (1872) have been key elements in the Western Australian Museum Maritime Archaeology Department’s research, exhibition, and outreach programs. This article describes a continually evolving, often intuitive, synergy between archaeological fieldwork and analyses, as well as museum interpretations and public engagement that have characterized the Steamships to Suffragettes exhibit conducted as part of a museum in vivo situation. This project has centered on themes locating the SS Xantho within a network of temporal, social, and biographical linkages, including associations between the ship’s engine and a visionary engineer (John Penn), a controversial entrepreneur (Charles Broadhurst), a feminist (Eliza Broadhurst), and a suffragette (Kitty Broadhust), as well as to Aboriginal and “Malay” divers and artists. Achieved with few funds, the project may be a valuable case study at a time when funds allocated to museums and archaeological units are rapidly diminishing.

Contributor Notes

NICOLAS BIGOURDAN is a French maritime archaeologist and assistant curator at the Maritime Archaeology Department of the Western Australian Museum since 2012. He worked as project supervisor for the Coastal and Marine section of Wessex Archaeology (United Kingdom) from 2008 to 2012. He holds a BA (2002) in History and an Honours degree (2003) in Nautical Archaeology, both from l’Université de la Sorbonne, and a Master’s (2005) in Maritime Archaeology from James Cook University. He has been involved in several maritime and underwater archaeological projects in various countries (Australia, Federated States of Micronesia, France, Mauritius, South Africa, South Korea, Sri Lanka, United Kingdom).

KEVIN EDWARDS graduated from the University of Western Australia in 1991 and is currently a postgraduate student in the Maritime Archaeology program at Flinders University. His research interests include the archaeological potential of near and offshore disposals of military material in wartime and postbellum contexts, the application of social theory to shipwreck survivor camp studies, and the documentation of archaeological collections using a variety of 3-D digitization technologies. He also focuses on the use of close-range multi-image photogrammetry as a means of rapidly documenting and monitoring underwater archaeological sites.

DR. MICHAEL MCCARTHY, adjunct professor, as the WA Museum’s “Inspector of Wrecks” was responsible for the assessment of newly found shipwrecks and relics. He is the archaeologist responsible for the excavation and assessment of many historic sites, including port-related structures, the VOC ship Zuytdorp (1711), the iron-hulled SS Xantho (1872), the submerged World War II flying boats at Broome, and the HMAS Sydney and HSK Kormoran. He pioneered the study of abandoned hulks, submarines, aircraft wrecks, and the “wreck trail” and “wreck access” movements as well as the Australian Contact Shipwrecks Program.

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