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Listening to Object Witnesses: Decolonizing Research in Museum Collections
Nov 27 2019 - 5:00pm
Green College Interdisciplinary Series: Indigenous/Science Partnerships - Exploring Histories and Environments
Co-sponsored by the Interdisciplinary Histories Research Cluster
Margaret Bruchac, Anthropology, Coordinator of the Native American and Indigenous Studies Initiative, University of Pennsylvania
How do Indigenous objects in museum collections speak to those who collect, curate, observe and claim them? Material traces and techniques obviously reflect particular ecosystems and eras, but do these objects also retain memories of their component parts, of the artisans who created them, and of the intentions spoken into them? Can certain objects communicate across cultural and temporal boundaries, or between human and other-than-human beings? In this talk, Margaret Bruchac discusses strategies for recovering object histories through both material analyses and critical reassessments of imposed categories (art, artifact, trade good) that have distanced objects from their origins and isolated them from others like themselves. Case histories will feature new research into iconic creations – such as a 17th century wooden war club embedded with brass and wampum, and a shell bead wampum belt with a single glass bead – that function as “object witnesses” to entangled colonial settler/Indigenous encounters. Through her practice of “reverse ethnography,” Dr. Bruchac will also reveal how, in many cases, unknown histories can be recovered by tracking the desires and actions of non-Indigenous curators and collectors who transported these objects and stories to physically and conceptually distant locales.