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Archaeology and Ethnographic Collections

Disentangling Provenance, Provenience, and Context in Vanuatu Assemblages

James L. Flexner

ABSTRACT

The archaeological value of museum collections is not limited to collections labelled “archaeology.” “Ethnology” or “ethnography” collections can provide useful information for evaluating broadly relevant theoretical and methodological discussions in the discipline. The concepts of provenience (where something was found), provenance (where the materials for an object originated), and context (the ways an object is and was interpreted and used within a cultural milieu) are central to much archaeo-logical interpretation. Archaeologists have often looked to living societies as analogues for better understanding these issues. Museum ethnographic collections from Vanuatu provide a case study offering a complementary approach, in which assemblages of ethnographic objects and associated information allow us to reconstruct complex networks of movement, exchange, and entanglement.

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Book Reviews

Alan Crookham, Nina Finigan, Elizabeth Plumridge, and Michelle Horwood

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“The Changing of the Guards”?

British Prehistoric Collections and Archaeology in the Museums of the Future

Catherine. J. Frieman and Neil Wilkin

ABSTRACT

Over the past 30 years, Britain’s large archaeological museums and collections have shifted their focus away from academic visitors exploring their stores and collections and toward the dynamic presentation of permanent and temporary displays. These are arranged to emphasize compelling and relevant interpretative narratives over the presentation of large numbers of objects. The shift to digitization and the online presentation of collections is a major feature of public engagement activities at many museums but also might open older and less accessible collections up to research. In this article, we consider what role digital platforms may have in the future of British museum-based archaeology, with special reference to initiatives at the British Museum. We suggest that online collections have the potential to mediate between engaging the public and allowing professional archaeologists to develop sophisticated research programs, since these platforms can present multiple narratives aimed at different audiences.

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Comparative Colonialism and Collections-Based Archaeological Research

Dig Less, Catalog More

Julia A. King

ABSTRACT

Legacy collections are an increasingly valued source of information for researchers interested in the study and interpretation of colonialism in the Chesapeake Bay region of North America. Through the reexamination of 34 archaeological collections ranging in date from 1500 through 1720, researchers, including the author, have been able to document interactions among Europeans, Africans, and indigenous people in this part of the early modern Atlantic. We could do this only because we turned to existing collections; no single site could reveal this complex story. This article summarizes the major findings from this work and describes the pleasures and challenges of comparative analysis using existing collections. Collections-based research can also be used to inform fieldwork, so the legacy collections of tomorrow are in as good shape as possible. Indeed, collections-based work reveals the need for a critical dialogue concerning the methods, methodology, and ethics of both collections and field-based research.

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Curation as Public Scholarship

Museum Archaeology in a Seventeenth-Century Shipwreck Exhibit

Sarah A. Buchanan

ABSTRACT

Museum archaeology offers opportunities to practice artifact storytelling, engaging visitors on the strength of objects that have been conserved and curated. Public appreciation of science and history is bolstered when museums exhibit objects of singular historic significance in a manner that allows visitors to build an experiential understanding of the objects’ provenance. Archaeologists and conservators began reassembling the 330-year-old French ship La Belle as a live-action exhibition on 25 October 2014 in the Bullock Texas State History Museum. The collaboration broke new ground by inviting visitors, in person and via streaming online video, to watch the experts rebuild the ship in full public view. Until, and after, the reconstructed ship hull was moved into its permanent first-floor gallery location on 21 May 2015, the exhibition brought archaeologists and international museum visitors into the same room to learn. The article interprets these events toward reimagining museum object curation as public scholarship.

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Dark and Bright Futures for Museum Archaeology

James L. Flexner

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Democratizing the Digital Collection

New Players and New Pedagogies in Three-Dimensional Cultural Heritage

Jane-Heloise Nancarrow

ABSTRACT

Three-dimensional modeling and printing of museum artifacts have a growing role in public engagement and teaching—introducing new cultural heritage stakeholders and potentially allowing more democratic access to museum collections. This destabilizes traditional relationships between museums, collections, researchers, teachers and students, while offering dynamic new ways of experiencing objects of the past. Museum events and partnerships such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art “Hackathon”; the MicroPasts initiative; and Sketchfab for Museums and Cultural Heritage, encourage non-traditional methods of crowd-sourcing and software collaboration outside the heritage sector. The wider distribution properties of digitized museum artifacts also have repercussions for object-based and kinesthetic learning at all levels, as well as for experiential and culturally sensitive aspects of indigenous heritage. This article follows the existing workflow from model creation to classroom: considering the processes, problems, and applications of emerging digital visualization technologies from both a museum and pedagogical perspective.

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Exhibition Review Essays and Exhibition Reviews

Steven J. Hoffman, Fanny Wonu Veys, Joseph P Feldman, Natasha Barrett, Elsa Lenz Kothe, Antonino Crisà, Sayantan Mukhopadhyay, Masaaki Morishita, and Ewa Klekot

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Holistic Houses and a Sense of Place

Contextualizing the Bishop Museum Hale Pili Exhibit through Archaeological Analyses

Jennifer G. Kahn

ABSTRACT

This article discusses the process of refinding the initial location of the Bishop Museum’s hale pili (Hawaiian pole and thatch house) and an archaeological investigation of the site’s surface architecture, use of space, and subsurface activities. The study touches upon themes relevant to representations of culture and place in museum exhibits, analysis of existing museum collections to holistically interpret material culture, and the history of anthropological collecting. The hale pili represents a “hybrid” form, with elements of precontact Hawaiian folk housing and European concepts introduced in the postcontact period. This problematizes the notion of “traditional” when used in relation to indigenous cultures in settler societies and the practice of exhibiting unique examples of “authentic” housing in isolation. Such analyses increase our interpretive abilities for museum collections and exhibits in the long term, particularly in reunifying folk housing and other material culture with location, a sense of place, and locale.

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Integrating Research and Collections Management

The Ho‘omaka Hou Research Initiative at the Bishop Museum

Mara A. Mulrooney, Charmaine Wong, Kelley Esh, Scott Belluomini, and Mark D. McCoy

ABSTRACT

The Ho‘omaka Hou Research Initiative is a collaborative research endeavor that is primarily focused on the analysis of the Bishop Museum’s Archaeology Collections. The goal of Ho‘omaka Hou (which literally means “to begin again”) is to encourage continued work with these invaluable museum collections, and to bring together researchers and students with various research interests in order to learn more about the past. In addition to conducting research on museum collections using the most up-to-date methods in the field of archaeology, we are building a digital inventory of the collections. This integrated approach highlights the relevance of archaeological collections housed in museums for informing researchers about the past, and also emphasizes the need for modernizing digital inventories to safeguard these collections for the future.