Cannibal Tours and Glass Boxes: The Anthropology of Museums

Cannibal Tours and Glass Boxes: The Anthropology of Museums

Cannibal Tours and Glass Boxes: The Anthropology of Museums

Cannibal Tours and Glass Boxes: The Anthropology of Museums

Synopsis

Cannibal Tours and Glass Boxes poses a number of probing questions about the role and responsibility of museums and anthropology in the contemporary world. In it, Michael Ames, an internationally renowned museum director, challenges popular concepts and criticisms of museums and presents an alternate perspective which reflects his experiences from many years of museum work. Based on the author's previous book, Museums, the Public and Anthropology, the new edition includes seven new essays which argue, as in the previous volume, that museums and anthropologists must contextualize and critique themselves -- they must analyse and critique the social, political and economic systems within which they work. In the new essays, Ames looks at the role of consumerism and the market economy in the production of such phenomena as worlds' fairs and McDonald's hamburger chains, referring to them as "museums of everyday life" and indicating the way in which they, like museums, transform ideology into commonsense, thus reinforcing and perpetuating hegemonic control over how people think about and represent themselves. He also discusses the moral/political ramifications of conflicting attitudes towards Aboriginal art (is it art or artifact?); censorship (is it liberating or repressive?); and museum exhibits (are they informative or disinformative?). The earlier essays outline the development of museums in the Western world, the problems faced by anthropologists in attempting to deal with the often conflicting demands of professional as opposed to public interests, the tendency to both fabricate and stereotype, and the need to establish a reciprocal rather than exploitative relationship between museums/anthropologists and Aboriginal people. Written during the course of the last decade, these essays offer an accessible, often anecdotal, journey through one professional anthropologist's concerns about, and hopes for, his discipline and its future.

Excerpt

The first edition of this book, comprising Chapters 2-6 and 9-10 in the new edition, was published in 1986 as Museums, the Public and Anthropology in the Ranchi University Anthropology Series (Concept Publishing Company) under the general editorship of my friend and colleague, the late Dr. Lalita Prasad Vidyarthi. Sadly, he passed away unexpectedly before the preparation of this revision. It was through his kindness and support that the publication of the first edition was made possible, providing the foundation for this second one. Grateful acknowledgment is also made to Ranchi University and Concept Publishing Company, New Delhi, with whom Dr. Vidyarthi worked closely, for supporting the idea of an expanded edition under a new title.

Much of this book is about the relations between anthropology and the peoples it represents, particularly in museums. How these people should be named therefore requires some explanation. a general term for 'the Other' within the museum context is 'originating populations' (Chapter 13), the people from whose cultures museum collections originated. There are a range of more specific terms for the originating peoples of North America, representing the fact that usage preferences change, and sometimes rapidly. When some of these essays were first written ten or so years ago, the terms 'Native' and 'Indian' were somewhat more acceptable designations than they since have become. 'Native American' still appears to be in vogue in the United States, whereas First Nations, Aboriginal, indigenous peoples, Native (occasionally), and (more recently) First Peoples are becoming the preferred terms in Canada, usually with the first letters capitalized.

What's in a name? 'Why do you call us Indians?' Cree artist Gerald McMaster asked in one of the exhibitions of his works (Ryan 1991).

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