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Panel 25: Museums as “Engineered” Environments – A Dialogic Approach to Researching Museum Collections


Elizabeth Bonshek, Lindy Allen

Session presentation

Anthropological practice in museums continues to be criticised as anachronistic, “weary” and “tired”, and museums as trophy houses embedded in the colonial past. This panel challenges this notion with papers that actively contest this notion and instead reveal the museum as an active field site―albeit an engineered environment― where Pacific communities, artists, anthropologists, and curators are undertaking research collaborations on museum collections.

The things in museums provide a unique and tangible link to events, to places, to people and to customary practices and knowledge from the past, and the panel seeks to give focus to how these research engagements have impacted on or been part of the recovery and reshaping of knowledge and identity.

This work is underpinned by a dialogic approach where multiple and differing perspectives about these “things” are elicited, where ideas and understandings are exchanged and interchanged, and where new knowledge, meanings and narratives about the past emerge. We seek to reveal the nuanced and complex nature of interactions in museums as engineered environments and how these engagements sit apart from the now longstanding narrative of decolonisation and Indigenous-colonial settler relationships that currently pervade much anthropological, historical writings about museums and museum collections.

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