Archive | Topics for Discussion

Saving Antiquities for Everyone


SAFE is a not-for-profit awareness raising and lobbying organization based in the US, which aims to draw attention to the systematic pillaging and looting of archaeological sites worldwide, linking up to the work of British archaeologists such as Colin Renfrew working at the Macdonald Institute at Cambridge University.
They encourage student participation through poster sessions and internships, run public programs and have an excellent website. Those in New York should try to attend Oscar Muscarella’s subversive tours of the Metropolitan Museum’s Greek, Roman and Ancient Near East Galleries. Founded by a group of private individuals in the wake of the looting of the Baghdad Museum, SAFE exemplifies the ways in which concerned individuals can try to make a difference. Of course, targeting concerned scholars is only part of the task – we need to reeducate collectors as to the implications of the trade in antiquities.…

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Night at the Museum

Sandra Rozental, NYU Anthropology Graduate Student
Museums have been pooling from film in both literal and figurative ways. Galleries are peppered with screens and video installations, film segments and screening areas, but they are also generating “blockbuster” shows and featuring trailer-like advertisements for their exhibitions on television and in cinemas.
The American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) is no exception, with the added plus of hosting a the largest ethnographic and documentary film festival in the United States once a year, the Margaret Mead Film and Video Festival. Despite its long and intricate relationship with film, in the last few months, the museum has been greatly transformed by film. Since A Night at the Museum, a film based on a book by Milan Trenc, directed by Shawn Levy, and with Ben Stiller playing the main character, was screened around the world, visitors come to the museum looking for the film’s many characters: Attila the Hun, Jedediah, Sacajawea, the Easter Island talking head, and Dexter the monkey, among others.…

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‘Indian Speak’ through an ‘Indigenous Dialogue’

Erin Mell-Taylor, former UCL Material Culture postgraduate
Bob Haozous is famous person, or that’s how I’ve always looked at him. He is someone that I looked up to as an example of a Native American that has truly ‘made it’. While he works in the same discipline as his father Alan Houser, he has transformed the idea of art, and made it controversial and beautiful. “…His artwork is rooted in his strong communal and cultural identity. Haozous believes that the prestige he earns as an artist goes back to his people and, in a sense, he does not own himself.” (Eun-Hui An This is one of the reasons I found the statement that Bob Haozous wrote as apart of the accompanying text to his exhibition in the IAIA Museum of Contemporary Native Art beautiful in a melancholy way, as well as very suggestive of what one would think Haozous would write as a precursor to his work.…

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A couple of years ago a student of mine wrote an essay on the concept of objectification, and the importance of modes of externalisation as the means by which we come to know ourselves. To illustrate this she used the phenomenon of reflectoporn. This is where people flouted the ban on pornography on E-Bay by putting up for auction objects such as mirrors, kettles with reflective surfaces and such like, which when given a second glance, turn out to dimly reflect naked persons presumed to be the people who are selling the things. As far as I know this is not a particularly extensive phenomenon, but it has attracted a sort of urban myth status with hundreds of websites telling us that the phenomenon exists.…

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Becoming HIV: disease as agency

Ellie Reynolds, University College London
The following is an exploration of the materiality and meaning of HIV positive semen for a group of gay men who engage in two behaviours: bugchasing and giftgiving. Bugchasing is the desire for, and active pursuit of, HIV infection; giftgiving is the attempt to infect others with HIV. Central to these behaviours is the ‘conversion’ ritual where HIV positive giftgivers attempt to infect HIV negative bugchasers. The bugchasers, during the ritual, are considered to be both feminine (in their behaviour and in the ‘bottom’ (insertee) role they take during sexual intercourse) and female (where maleness is defined as the ability to act upon and transform another).
Bugchasers are said to be ‘impregnated’ by the masculine and male giftgivers when they are infected.…

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Materiality and Immateriality: Is the concept of ‘Intangible Heritage’ useful for Material Culture Studies?

Marilena Alivizatou, UCL Institute of Archaeology
While material culture studies are based on the idea that ‘materiality is an integral dimension of culture’ (Tilley 2006: 1), the recent adoption of the Convention for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage in October 2003 by the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) has brought the concept of intangible heritage and subsequently, the notion of ‘immateriality’ into the spotlight. In this sense, an examination of the implications of employing the concept of intangible heritage in material culture studies could raise new challenges around the interaction between the material and the conceptual.
Rooted in Japanese and Korean understandings of cultural heritage, the concept of intangible heritage emerged on an international level in the 1990s within the operational grounds of UNESCO, as an alternative and complementary concept to the Eurocentric understanding of cultural heritage that was dominated by the ideas of monumentality and authenticity.…

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African Memories

Marta Rosales ESCS and CEMME FCSH/UNL, Professor Filomena Silvano CEMME FCSH/UNL (scientific coordinator)
Domestic consumption practices, colonialism and transcontinental migration experiences of a group of Portuguese and Goan families.
This project aims the study of the domestic consumption practices of a restrict group of families of Portuguese and Goan origins that share a common biographical past: an inter-generational lived experience in Mozambique (during the colonial period) and a forced migration out of Africa to Portugal and Brazil after de Mozambican independence. Theoretically, the research intends the development of an approach that allows the integration of material culture and consumption studies to the discussion of a significant phenomenon that had a critical impact on the Portuguese recent social history – the forced migration of diverse social groups out of the Portuguese former African colonies.…

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[From the editors: we have reposted this from the early days of the site last year, as there seems to be a theme developing in the site regarding landscape, moving through space, and the politics of embodying place….more to come]

Footpaths: In England and Wales the statutory definition of a footpath is a right of way over which the public have a right to pass and repass by foot only.

Kate Cameron-Daum, PhD Student, Anthropology, University College London
The essential element of the footpath is the human interaction with it. Henri Lefebvre wrote of how social and mental activity embeds its network on the landscape and this is clearly evidenced in the historical use and pattern of footpaths which has changed from a mainly economic to a recreational usage.…

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‘Anthropography’: Identity and the Material Mapping of Movement

Patrick Laviolette, UCL/Massey University
Source: Patrick Laviolette
Thirty years ago Malcom Crick (I976) provided an explicit conceptualisation for map usages. His definition for what constitutes a map was that it is “something that is itself a representative device [and] can be employed as a means of representation” (I976: I29). He divided mapping metaphors into two categories: i) those that fit into ‘mirror theory’ where they are iconic reflections of spatial reality; and ii) those that are a part of a ‘semantic field theory’ where they generate a figurative spatial language. Though this simple dichotomy is limiting and perhaps even questionable, Crick was nonetheless able to make the astute claim that the social scientist’s task was to devise methods for reading maps that chart out the worldviews and lifeworlds of different social groups.…

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Material Culture studies at the American Anthropological Association

Daniel Miller, Anthropology UCL
A Congress of different cultures: the General Assembly of the United Nations (in lieu of a conference photograph from the AAA)

Last week I attended the annual meetings of the AAA held at San Jose. I went along with a group of students, staff and ex-students from University College London to present a panel concerned with studies inside and outside the home. As usual we are fairly up-front in presenting ourselves under the auspices of ‘material culture studies’. But while this term seems to have established itself as fully as one could wish outside of the US, in the anthropology of places as diverse as Australia through to Brazil, US anthropology continues to exhibit some reticence with respect both to the terminology and its associated conceptualisations.…

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