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Museums, Mobility, and Material Culture

A Review of Manawatū Journeys

Kirstie Ross

Te Manawa: Museum of Art, Science and History Palmerston North, New Zealand http://www.temanawa.co.nz/ 10am–5pm daily including weekends Free general admission

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A Hybrid New World... or Not?

Transformation versus Hybridisation in Early Modern World

Fatima Essadek

During the last three decades, early modern scholarship has drawn heavily on twentieth-century theorisation to analyse the socio-cultural conditions in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. An example of such scholarly endeavours is the attempt to appropriate the concept of hybridity to explain the constitution of cultural identity. This article re-evaluates this critical trend by reviewing the model of hybridity in relation to early modern cultures; it simultaneously proposes the existence of another cultural pattern that is here labelled ‘cultural transformation’. The article also contends that hybridisation is more manifest in the domain of material culture: the ethno-cultural characteristics of early modern communities made them more receptive towards accepting and integrating material objects but less welcoming towards assimilating beliefs, values or cultural practices from other nations.

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Godless People and Dead Bodies

Materiality and the Morality of Atheist Materialism

Jacob Copeman and Johannes Quack

Atheists are not the only people who donate their bodies, yet the practice is strikingly prevalent in a variety of atheist circles. We concentrate here on the Indian case, exploring body donation as a key instance of the material culture of atheism. Recent efforts to reinvigorate study of the material culture of religion are to be welcomed, but they should be extended to non-religion in order to address the irony that sees scholars representing materialism as an abstract doctrine and, hence, as immaterial. Body donation holds value for Indian atheists as a bridge between 'positive' and 'negative' modes of atheist thought and action. It also provides a ready-made solution for atheist activists keen to circumvent the cadaver-centered death rituals they find so redundant.

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Adam Drazin and Simon Roberts

Ethnographic work conducted by the Digital Health Group, Intel Ireland, explores the questions of how concepts of health and independence relate to peoples' lives in later life. This paper serves to present artistic approaches to the design of the material culture in elderly homes in Ireland, and aims to highlight and discuss the merits and problems of such approaches. Through writing 'in miniature' about specific experiences and homes, we propose that it is possible to develop explorations of material objects in the home which, rather than presenting material contexts as terminal 'conclusions' to the research process, use them as provoking and questioning resources for engaged dialogical encounters with informants.

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Janet Seow

Doll play is critical in the formation of young black girls’ gender, race, and class identities. In this article, I use textual analysis that emphasizes how physical changes in dolls correspond to contextual shifts in society over the last seven decades, and qualitative research with ten Afro-Caribbean girls and young women in Toronto to reveal the racial and cultural meanings of dolls in young people’s everyday lives and how doll play is complicated by racist and classist representations of dolls. By exploring what doll play meant to them, I show how it helps black girls understand racial and gendered norms. Through doll play, girls reveal an understanding of their racialized identities and marginalization as they demonstrate unacknowledged skills in their ability to navigate barriers that reinforce racial inequalities and social hierarchies in girls’ material culture in a multicultural Toronto.

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Houses for the Curious

Curating between Medicine, Life and Art

Ken Arnold

This article considers a curiosity-driven approach to curating focused on material culture that visitors encounter in physical spaces. Drawing on research into historical curiosity cabinets, it explores how a contemporary notion of curiosity has been put into practice in the new breed of culturally enlightened museums exploring interdisciplinary approaches to medicine, health, life, and art. Based on an inaugural professorial address at Copenhagen University, it reflects on exhibition projects there and at the Wellcome Collection in London. Museums are institutional machines that generate social understanding from material things. Their physical spaces influence how we learn, think, and feel in public; their material collections feed our comprehension, imagination, and emotions; and induce attentive behavior in curators and visitors.

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The 'Gendered Field' of Kaolinite Clay Production

Performance Characteristics among the Balengou

Ngambouk V. Pemunta

This article examines the 'gendered field' of kaolinite clay production and its integration into the local socio-cultural universe of the Balengou of the Western region of Cameroon. Kaolinite clay is produced and ingested mainly by women, especially during pregnancy so as to ensure that their children are born 'clean'. Used as a herbal additive, the clay is also believed to be imbued with sacred qualities and has a symbolic role in various communal rituals. Although geophagy—the practice of eating earth—is associated with harmful health effects, the various affordances offered by kaolinite clay as a valuable object of material culture constitute a specific entanglement of nature and culture. This study makes a modest contribution to the literature on the 'politics of value' and on the relationality of human/non-human interactions.

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Culture, Identity, Difference

Developing a Museum-based Anthropology Education Resource forPre-university Students

Paul Basu and Simon Coleman

In its 2002-3 Strategic Review, the Royal Anthropological Institute reasserted the importance of the public communication of anthropology for the future of the discipline. Two significant venues for public engagement activity were identified: museums and pre-university education contexts. We present an account of the development and piloting of an anthropology teaching and learning resource that bridges these two arenas. Complementing efforts to introduce an anthropology A-Level, the Culture, Identity, Difference resource uses museum collections as a way of introducing anthropological perspectives on topics such as belief, ethnicity, gender and power to enhance students' studies across a range of different A-Level subjects. We reflect on some of the lessons learnt during the process, including the value of developing resources that can be used flexibly and creatively by teachers and students, and the need to approach the museum as a space of encounter, exploration and experimentation rather than as a didactic educational venue.

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Remembering the Leu

Encounters with Money and Memory in Post-communist, Accession-era Romania

Alyssa Grossman

This article approaches money as the object of a particular type of remembrance work occurring in present-day, post-communist Bucharest. Since the 1989 revolution, the Romanian leu has changed numerous times in appearance and value. Piecing together observations from over a decade of fieldwork in Bucharest, I evaluate everyday behaviours and conversations surrounding these changes, and examine how the leu has been implicated in subjective, highly charged encounters closely bound to the workings of memory. The leu's fluctuating terminology, along with its material and imagerial variations over time have triggered poignant associations and recollections that often remain unspoken, embedded in unseen realms of the mind. By emphasising the leu's role as an everyday artefact and its connections to processes of 'communicative' memory, I point to the present-day climate in Bucharest as one where perceptions of the leu's multiple forms and manifestations reveal strong ambivalences towards current accession-era values, as well as deep uncertainties about Romania's 'European' future.

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Holistic Houses and a Sense of Place

Contextualizing the Bishop Museum Hale Pili Exhibit through Archaeological Analyses

Jennifer G. Kahn

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.