Tag Archives: Archive

Announcing Transactions: a Payments archive

Reblogged from the blog of the Institute for Money, Technology and Financial Inclusion

Through 2013, the Institute for Money, Technology and Financial Inclusion has funded over 125 researchers in 38 countries. Every year they come together at the University of California, Irvine to share their research questions and conclusions. They also bring with them more tangible lessons: an incredibly diverse assortment of artifacts that also help to tell the still-unfolding story of mobile money.

We did not anticipate becoming a museum. But one of the important side-effects of our large and still-growing research network has been the accumulation of stuff: state and local currencies in multiple denominations, promotional material from mobile money deployments, and artifacts of everyday monetary practice, from cell phone sleeves to piggy banks. We have been fortunate to receive many of these as gifts from our researchers, and early on we realized the treasures that had begun to gather in our offices. We began a partnership with the British Museum to receive many of these artifacts for its own collection of modern money paraphernalia, and as we have documented before, many of these objects can now be seen in the Citi Modern Money Gallery.

In 2013, inspired by this incipient collection, IMTFI research assistants formed a new partnership with the Intel Science and Technology Center for Social Computing (also at UC Irvine), as well as a range of other institutions (from the Fitzwilliam Museum at the University of Cambridge to the Khipu Database Project at Harvard University), to launch a new website and online collaborative collection. Called TRANSACTIONS: A Payments Archive, this collection brings together artifacts from partner collections and written commentaries from independent contributors to spark a conversation about the material cultures and histories of payment and debt.

You can read more about the TRANSACTIONS archive in Anthropology News:
How might attention to such objects, their contexts and uses illuminate the longue durée history of forms of payment and transactional record-keeping and reframe understandings of the materiality of debt and money? And how might we reassemble a material history of money, debt, payments, and transactional records across their often-disconnected institutional contexts? […] Transactions is our attempt to constitute a collaborative framework to address these questions.TRANSACTIONS needs your help!

We invite public participation in this collaborative endeavor in two ways:

1) Submit images of transactions artifacts of your own (or those you have come across in research) to our Collaborative Archive, along with a short explanation detailing their who, what, when, and where. Visit our site and click the “Contribute” button to learn more.

2) We welcome commentaries of 500-1500 words that offer more in-depth reflections on transactions artifacts, either those we have selected from our partner collections or those you have found in your own research. We have already hosting commentaries and other reflections from scholars such as Jane Guyer, Joe Deville, Alexandre Roig and Waldemar Cubilla, Lana Swartz, and Carlyn James.

Feel free to contact us at paymentsarchive@gmail.com.

The Interference Archive


The Interference Archive is an activist archive of political ephemera from radical social movements in the USA and around the world. Activist not only because of the subject matter of its collections but also in the way it is organized as a collection. Based in Gowanus, Brooklyn, and running on a budget of less than $25,000 a year, the archive is open to the public who are encouraged to touch, rummage, duplicate, appropriate and generally engage away from the white-glove model of museums and special collections. Based on the personal collections of Josh MacPhee and Dara Greenwald, the archive now describes itself as an open-access, open-stack archive:

 As an archive from below, we are a collectively run space that stresses the use of our collection over its preservation, offers open stacks and accessibility for all, works in collaboration with like-minded projects, and encourages critical as well as creative engagements with our own histories

Click here for a slideshow of the archive as featured in the NY Times.


Studio Suhag! a vernacular photographic archive in India.

Christopher Pinney, Dept of Anthropology, UCL

The name is Studio Suhag. The location is a small industrial town in central India, exactly half-way between Mumbai and Delhi. The photographer is Suresh Punjabi. The images are scanned from medium-format negatives recently retrieved from Suresh’s monsoon damaged godown.  He calls it a godown (warehouse) but actually it is half a floor in a rented house in which a sudden influx of monsoon rain had dislodged tens of thousands of negs, all carefully filed and sequenced, transforming an ordered archive into a mouldering mush on the floor. Several days of careful sifting produced maybe a thousand printable negatives, the rest remain on the floor in an increasingly jumbled mess.

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The earliest images date from the late 1970s, the most recent ones from the mid-1980s.  Suresh himself presents a historical narrative that focuses on the tiny space of his studio and looks back – with a certain fascination – to an analogue era of genuine artisanal inventiveness. It is a time of buckets, chemicals, cramped spaces, and staying up all night developing and printing work for clients eager to see their pictures the next morning. My own perspective pivots around my first visit to the town in late 1982 and the social history of a rapidly evolving settlement which I have continued to visit ever since.  A broader perspective would want to frame all this in terms of the social and political crises of the 1970s which led to Indira Gandhi’s ‘Bonapartist’ Emergency, the reaction against this, the assassination following Operation Bluestar and so on.

But looking at these images one is struck by their claustrophobia and near-immunity to the astonishing events of that broader political history. There are dreams, aspirations, identities, and rhythms which intrude upon these photographs but for the most part one is left with a sense of an endlessly repeated space within which Suresh sculpts his customers. There is a narrative here of villagers and townspeople, poor and rich, devout and cosmopolitan, but these are all made visible in a very particular space in which a relatively fixed repertoire of backdrops, props, lighting and framing techniques gradually become recognizable.  What kind of history might be mobilized by, and used to frame, these images?

Nearly all the negatives from which the present images are printed bear evidence of water damage and some of this is evident in the prints too. The other material trace is that of the space of the studio. In the late 1980s Suresh switched to 35mm format. Not only was this much cheaper but its format was also closer to the format of the prints which most clients desired. Many customers demand ‘full-body’ images. Using a medium format camera (Suresh’s was a Yashica) in the small confines of the studio to capture a full-length pose always meant that all the ‘noise’ of the studio was also recorded in the negative. Suresh would step back, framing his subject centrally in the image and at the sides would intrude studio lights, curtains, props and so on.   This noise was all cropped out in the printed image since it was mere infrastructure designed to deliver an illuminated and adequately posed central body and was of no interest to the customer or to Suresh. But it was all there in the negative, a kind of silent Brechtian margin awaiting recovery. The effect is frequently reminiscent of Samuel Fosso’s work in the Central African Republic: a standing figure is usually positioned at the centre of the space in front of a painted backdrop and flanked on either side by tall studio lights. Rediscovering those margins, and other secrets of the enchanted claustrophobic space of the studio, is one of the pleasures of working on this archive.

Aesthetics of display in a museum context

Gabriela Nicolescu, Phd candidate
Department of Anthropology
Goldsmiths, University of London
Figure 1: The statue of Marx, Engels and Lenin in the back yard of the National Museum of the Romanian Peasant (NMRP) @ Marius Caraman/ 1991, Image Archive of the NMRP.

This image comes from the Image Archive of a museum. It was taken in 1991, two years after the fall of the Ceausescu’s regime in Romania. Even so, one can wonder what a statue of three famous communist ideologists has to do, even in the backyard, with an institution which mainly exhibits ethnographic objects. Another subject of reflection, that the image provokes, is the ambiguous situation in which the statue finds itself: near the garbage bins, but still covered with a roof as if protected.

In this text I will briefly discuss two themes that emerged during my fieldwork research in the National Museum of the Romanian Peasant (NMRP) in Bucharest, Romania. First theme is concerned with the changing nature of the display in the history of a museum. How are different visual representations of the same objects used by radically different ideologies to re-assemble particular social ideas about the peasant in Romania? The second theme is concerned with quite different questions: what do neglect, iconoclasm and vandalism mean in a museum context and how do diverse ways of destruction actually lead to the construction of new displays?

An entire panel that I co-organise (with Raluca Musat) at this year’s European Association of Social Anthropologists (EASA) conference (W110: Confident museums of uncertain pasts, www.nomadit.co.uk/easa/easa2012/panels.php5?PanelID=1184) on 11th of July 2012 will discuss the way museums use and make visible the controversies and uncertainties of their past and that of the societies to which they belong.


The Museum of National Art, Ethnology, Decorative and Industrial Art was born in 1906 under the guidance of an art historian, Al. Tzigara-Samurcas.  The institution attempted to promote ‘peasant art’ as the basis of the unity of the newly formed Romanian nation state.

Figure 2: Image from the inter-war institution: The Museum of National Art, Image Archive of the MRP

After the Second World War, the museum was completely changed by the new regime. The initial collections were split among other institutions; the employees were re-trained in line with the exigencies of Stalinist Cultural Revolution and historical materialism, and the displays of ethnographic objects were fundamentally altered. An important thing to be mentioned is that the museum’s building was occupied by different other museums dealing with communist[1] propaganda.

In the following image, one can see what an ethnographic display of costumes meant in the 1950s: items from all the ethnographic regions of the country were stitched in a series, one after another, on the boards, inside glass cases. Labels, as well as maps would sustain the theme of the exhibition: the representation of the costumes from all the ethnographic regions of the country. Images at the top of the costumes and maps, would present factories and collectivised lands, but not collectivised peasants.

Figure 3: The Bi-annual folk art exhibition in 1955, Image Archive of the NMRP

From the 1950s, Muzeul de Artă Populară (a name that can only be roughly translated as the Museum of Folk Art) received the collections of ethnographic objects from the previous institution. In just two decades the collections were tripled, by making new acquisitions from regions across the whole country, adding to them artisan objects and objects donated by other museum institutions all over the world. The collection process was so extensive that in 1971 the museum ended up by literally being transformed in a store and closed to visitors. What mattered were the numerous temporary exhibitions organised in the country (in factories, schools, and community halls) and abroad.

After the earthquake in 1977, when the building of the institution was damaged, the Museum of Folk Art closed its gates and its collections entered the deposits of another museum that displayed rural life, the outdoor Village Museum.

In 1990s, after the fall of communism in Romania, a new team of curators mainly lead by the contemporary artist Horia Bernea started to re-construct the display, by neglecting the institution’s communist history and aesthetics and reinforcing the glorious past of the inter-war period. The reunited collections of the two previous museums were replaced in the original building under the new title of the Museum of the Romanian Peasant. However, this museum claimed its ideological and physical precursor was in many ways the original Museum of National Art, even if ironically much of its present power of attraction came from the way it integrated through opposition its communist predecessors.

In order to obliterate the communist past, the new museum team literally dismantled piece by piece the previous display of the Museum of the Party (officially opened in 1966), asked priest to ‘purify’ the space with holy water and prayers.  Objects, boards, slogans, glass cases were taken away, transported to other institutions or made to pieces or thrown away.

However, fragments of this ‘deleted’ past remained in the stores of the museum and few years after the fall of Ceausescu regime, re-gained power. For example, in the back yard of the museum, a statue that initially was meant to be thrown away, was covered with wooden boards and kept in an indecisive state: to be thrown or treasured.  In 2006 attempts to include the statue in an exhibition that the museum organised in the Museum of Young Art in Vienna were made. For a moment, the statue returned to the front stage of the museum and became an object that could have represented the institution abroad. (In the end, it didn’t: it was too heavy to be transported by car to Vienna!)

Some other objects have been collected and displayed in other exhibitions and projects about communism.  Now the NMRP is the only institution in Bucharest to have a permanent display about the recent socialist past, as well as many other objects related to this in its stores.

Figure 4: ‘Lenin facing Lenin.’ Personal image from the exhibition: The Plague. Political Installation. The Museum of the Romanian Peasant, 2011

Figure 4 is an image taken in the only permanent exhibition room to exhibit something to do with the communist regime in Bucharest, Romania, 22 years after Ceausescu regime fell. The room called: The Plague: Political Installation is placed in the under-ground of the museum. For those of you, who want to see what the museum looks like, but also to relate more the relation between the present aesthetics of display and the use of history in this institution, you can take a virtual tour of the museum in English. www.tur.muzeultaranuluiroman.ro/index_en.html

This text presented the history of a museum institution and its various ways of displaying objects in its collections. The nature of the museum’s collection is changed over time: national art became folk art during communism. Today, even if the NMRP should exhibit only objects related with peasants, it combines ethnographic objects with fragments of a deleted communist past. I showed how different institutions and their trajectories of collection and exhibition making impacted on the present display in the NMRP. My PhD thesis at Goldsmiths College, Department of Anthropology as well as the EASA panel W110: Confident museums of uncertain pasts will develop more on the above mentioned themes.



[1] In this text and in my PhD thesis I use the term ‘communist/ Communism’ when I discuss the realities of the People’s Republic of Romania (1947-1965) and The Socialist Republic of Romania (1965-1989). By making use of the term ‘communism’ people in Romania denominate the recent past and the socialist regime. One reason for this appellation is that the name of the only party in power during this regime remained unchanged: the Romanian Communist Party.

Online Archive of Ivan Karp’s Publications Launched at Emory University

From Prof. Cory Kratz, Emory University:


Emory University recently launched an online archive of Ivan Karp’s (1943–2011) published papers in order to keep his work widely available. Karp was a social anthropologist and a leading scholar of social theory, museum and heritage studies, and African studies. He began his long-term research with Iteso communities in western Kenya in 1969. Karp wrote extensively about power, personhood and agency, about African societies and systems of thought, and he published groundbreaking work about museums and exhibitions.

The new online archive includes complete lists of Karp’s books and of the works published in the two book series for which he served as editor: the African Systems of Thought series at Indiana University Press and the Smithsonian Series in Ethnographic Inquiry at Smithsonian Institution Press. Important features of the archive include: a) downloadable links to Karp’s published papers, b) video clips from his presentations, and c) an In Memoriam section with a praise poem written about him in Kenya and audio from the memorial held in his honor at the National Museum of African Art in November 2011. The archive organizes Karp’s papers thematically, with sections devoted to Social Theory and African Systems of Thought; Museums, Exhibitions and Public Scholarship; African Philosophy; and the Iteso People of Kenya. The archive can be found online at international.emory.edu/karp_archive.

Karp was the National Endowment for the Humanities Professor at Emory University before his death in September 2011. He served previously as the Curator of African Ethnology at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History and as a professor at Indiana University and Colgate University. He founded the Center for the Study of Public Scholarship at Emory and for over a decade co-directed it with Corinne Kratz, fostering ongoing collaboration with colleagues in universities, museums, and other cultural institutions in South Africa through the Institutions of Public Culture program. Plans are under way for Karp’s unpublished papers to be deposited with the National Anthropological Archives at the Smithsonian Institution.