Council for Museum Anthropology
Abstract: Much of the recent focus in museum anthropology has been on the reconnection of ethnographic collections with source communities. Technological change is transforming the ways in which digital images and databases can bring collections together and help source communities to trace their distributed collections and gain access to them, at least in digital form. While not challenging the importance of these developments and the discourse on repatriation that has been opened up at the community and governmental level, this panel has a different emphasis. We use the concept of diaspora to focus on the distributed collections in their different contexts and to understand how they can play an important role in the continuing process of creating new lives in a global framework. While the building of museum collections was entangled with the history of European colonisation, collections were also the product of long term relations of trade, exchange, diplomacy and value creation. Museums do include some objects of dubious provenance, but perhaps the majority of objects were part of global trading networks that continue to play a role in the expansion of collections. The collections reflect complex agencies and motivations and reveal world histories that need to be remembered.
The movement of objects has also been closely associated with the movement of people globally through migration and displacement and nationally through transformational processes within nation states. Settler colonial societies have been built through migration often initially from one country but subsequently diversifying as a consequence of economic factors and through the settlement of refugees. Movements towards multiculturalism are a recognition of diversity and difference within the state and museums have a major role to play in that context. Colonial histories have indirectly and directly brought migrant peoples from Africa and Asia to Europe and North America. Within settler colonial societies indigenous populations have often been forced into a constrained mobility, driven out of their own lands and moved into settlements or reserves. The idea of a source community is an important component of identity that can be accessed locally, regionally, nationally and globally. Collections from a particular country or place will have very different resonances and potentials as they spread across the world. It is vital that Europeans and Americans remember their colonial history but equally important that they acknowledge the present diversity of their national populations and provide access to different histories, working together in the creation and maintenance of identities. This session focus on the articulation between diaspora of collections and diaspora of people. The product of different yet often entangled processes, they meet together in the present in museums and their collections.