Chapter

Unpacking the Collection

Part of the series One World Archaeology pp 3-26

Date:

Networks, Agents and Objects: Frameworks for Unpacking Museum Collections

  • Sarah ByrneAffiliated withCentre for Museums, Heritage and Material Culture Studies, Institute of Archaeology, University College, London Email author 
  • , Anne ClarkeAffiliated withDepartment of Archaeology, School of Philosophical and Historical Inquiry, University of Sydney
  • , Rodney HarrisonAffiliated withFaculty of Arts, The Open University
  • , Robin TorrenceAffiliated withAustralian MuseumSchool of Philosophical and Historical Inquiry, University of Sydney

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Abstract

Although on face value, museum collections are largely perceived as static entities hidden away in storerooms or trapped behind glass cases, new research shows that over time and across space interactions between objects and a wide range of people have generated a complex assemblage of material and social networks. Based on a broad collection of source materials, studies examining the people who made, sold, traded, studied, catalogued, exhibited and connected with objects reveal a dynamic set of material and social agencies that have been instrumental in creating, shaping and reworking museum collections. By integrating and reworking theories about agency and materiality and by drawing on insights from Actor-Network Theory, contributors to this volume have uncovered new ways to think about relationships formed between objects and individuals and among diverse groups spread across the globe. The research also demonstrates that ethnographic collections continue to play important roles in supporting and reworking national identities as well as to challenge these through ongoing negotiations and sharing of ideas among both the guardians of these objects and their creator communities. These insights have important implications for designing curatorial practices in the future.