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The Australian National University

Engaging Objects: Indigenous communities and museum collections

The British Museum’s collection is one of the most important holdings of Australian Indigenous material in the world. It has been assembled over two hundred and forty years, beginning with material collected at Botany Bay in 1770, during James Cook’s first Pacific voyage. In addition to rare and precious objects, it includes photographs and artworks as well as correspondence detailing interactions between collectors and Australian Indigenous people throughout Australia and over a long period of time.

In 2015, the British Museum and the National Museum of Australia are staging two linked exhibitions based on objects from the BM’s collection of Australian Indigenous material.  This joint exhibition between the ANU, the NMA and the BM is an opportunity to explore the issues of museums and their relationship to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities in collaboration with Indigenous research participants and communities throughout Australia.

Despite its breadth, depth and historical importance, the collection has been little researched, either in Britain or Australia. Its contribution to understandings of the diversity and history of Indigenous material culture, histories of Australian Aboriginal people and their relationships with early settlers, as well as the collection’s meanings and significance to contemporary Indigenous communities, is therefore largely unrealised.

Research Team

The Research Team comprises Professor Howard Morphy (ANU), Dr Lissant Bolton (BM), Dr Ian Coates (NMA), Dr John Carty (ANU), Dr Maria Nugent (ANU), and Dr Michael Pickering (NMA).

More information

» Engaging Objects

» National Museum of Australia

Contact: Dr John Carty

Updated: 17 September 2012/ Responsible Officer:  Director, RSHA / Page Contact:  Web developer