Welcome to the Pacific Ethnography Project. The project will last one year and you can follow the developments, the ups and downs and the successes as we go along via our blog. We will keep you up to date as well as showing off some of the impressive collections along the way!
The project will be inventorying (going through every box and recording every detail about every object), improving the documentation (putting the following information on to the catalogue: new measurements, better descriptions and most importantly locations of where the objects are in the store) and improving the storage of the collections (packing the objects into better boxes to ensure their comfort and safety). You have to like spreadsheets to do this job!
Our collections are largely split into geographical locations so it will be rather like going on a tour of the Pacific Islands! We have got off to a relatively easy and interesting start by looking at objects from New Zealand. This includes some items that were collected in the early nineteenth century and some that were associated with people of high status. Many of these items have mana (power) and we are trying to make sure that they are all stored together.
I have found it very interesting learning about different cultural practices and how museums can respect these beliefs and care for objects in different ways. I have learnt much from the work that Eve Haddow and Chantal Knowles carried out during the Pacific Collections Review (http://www.nms.ac.uk/connections/national-work/sharing-collections/national-projects/pacific-collections-in-scottish-museums/) and the guidance notes they wrote.
We have also benefitted from a visit by Robin Torrence (Australian Museum) and Jude Philip (Macleay Museum, Sydney University Museums) who are working on a project about the New Guinea collections of Sir William Macgregor. Macgregor was an Aberdeen graduate who was Medical officer in Fiji and then first Administrator of British New Guinea towards the end of the nineteenth century, whose collection is the most important single part of the Pacific ethnography collection, with his collection from Papua New Guinea being particularly significant. Some of this collection will be on display in the exhibition my colleagues are curating which will open in King’s Museum in January. Having experts in the store has been hugely beneficial for me as I can listen and learn about different materials, techniques and examples from different areas. They were also kind enough to answer my endless questions!
The catalogue has already been updated with new details, measurements and most importantly locations. The objects have started to be restored into more adequate boxes and are now more accessible and safe. Looking forward to working on our material from Papua New Guinea!
I will keep you posted on any exciting finds….
(Louise Wilkie has been seconded to the work on the project for two days a week and will be joined in January by a Project Assistant who will work four days a week on the project for seven months)