Collecting at the Crossroads: Comparing the History of Encounter Studies in the Australian and American “Wests”

Jason Gibson, Deakin University

Matthew Liebmann, Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences

Alistair Paterson, University of Western Australia

We propose to explore the ways museum collections have shaped perceptions of settler-colonialism and Indigenous peoples through a comparison of two “Wests”: western North America and western Australia. We will bring together scholars working with the Berndt Museum of Anthropology at The University of Western Australia (one of Australia’s largest and most significant collections of comparative anthropology), the Peabody Museum at Harvard, and the Kluge Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection at the University of Virginia. Bringing together historians, anthropologists, archaeologists, and Indigenous activists, this seminar will result in the publication of a collection of essays and an accompanying digital exhibition. The seminar will focus on the future of global ethnographic collections derived from contexts of early colonial encounters in North America and Australia. Critical to this seminar will be Indigenous perspectives and experiences. Ethnographic museums today face a double bind: they must atone for the traumas of dispossession that resulted in the amassing of their collections, while simultaneously pioneering new ways to educate interested publics. This accelerator seminar will build upon ongoing conversations between the seminar organizers and members of Indigenous and museum communities to profile the key questions, research, and forms of Indigenous knowledge around collections as a pathway forward.