African Agency in the Archive: The South Africa Collections at the British Museum to 1961

Elliott Weinberg, Catherine (2019) African Agency in the Archive: The South Africa Collections at the British Museum to 1961. Doctoral thesis, University of East Anglia.

[img] PDF
Restricted to Repository staff only until 30 June 2025.

Request a copy
[img] PDF
Restricted to Repository staff only until 30 June 2025.

Request a copy

Abstract

This thesis examines the British Museum’s South Africa collections to 1961, here treated as archive, in order to recuperate traces of African agency in their formation. It uncovers information regarding named African individuals whose identity can be, in certain cases, once again reunited with objects, thereby countering the depersonalisation and dehistoricisation typical of ‘ethnographic’ collections. In addressing the issue of African agency, this study asks: how and why may the collections be treated as archive?; how does such treatment help reframe collections bound up in their colonial and ethnographised pasts?

The chosen methodological and theoretical approach looks at the collections through the prism of archive, consequently necessitating the examination of material held in various archives within and beyond the Museum. Rather than being a ‘utopian space of comprehensive knowledge’ (Richards 1993: 11) as formerly envisaged, the archive is understood as utopian in so far as the ‘archival affordances’ (Basu and de Jong 2016: 6) or ‘archival potential’ (Hamilton and Leibhammer 2016b: 416) it offers in the present, which facilitates the uncovering of hitherto silenced voices and narratives. Here, the archive, its formation and development, is engaged with critically in order to better understand it. Simultaneously, this study further develops a useful extension of the notion of ‘object biography’, namely that of ‘backstory’ (an object’s pre-museum life story) and ‘biography’ (its museum life story) based on ideas proposed by Carolyn Hamilton (2011) and further developed by herself and Nessa Leibhammer (2016b).

Spanning arguably the most significant tranche of the South Africa collections at the British Museum, this study provides a broad survey and also discusses a number of detailed, major case studies. It is the first of its kind to examine such a large part of these collections and the first expressly with the intention of uncovering traces of African agency.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Faculty \ School: Faculty of Arts and Humanities > School of Art, Media and American Studies
Depositing User: Chris White
Date Deposited: 28 Jun 2022 08:25
Last Modified: 28 Jun 2022 08:25
URI: https://ueaeprints.uea.ac.uk/id/eprint/85819
DOI:

Actions (login required)

View Item View Item