Friday, November 07, 2014

Museum Anthropology Leaders: Paul Tapsell, University of Otago, New Zealand, Part 2 of 2

Exclusive Museum Anthropology Blog Interview with Paul Tapsell, Professor, School for Maori, Pacific, and Indigenous Studies, University of Otago, New Zealand. 

This interview is the fourth installment in our series, Museum Anthropology Leaders, where blog intern Lillia McEnaney will be interviewing various anthropological museum professionals. 

This interview was conducted over written email correspondence. 

This is Part 2 of 2. 

Generally, what is your favorite thing about anthropology or museums?
Celebrating diversity and difference; negotiating cultural boundaries; providing source communities opportunity to co-produce/narrate their own exhibitions in nation spaces; providing a new generation of scholars opportunity to critically engage museums as places of co-production; and seeing museum-held dead released home, healing cross generational hurt and bringing museums one vital step closer to being places of vitality where the living really matter.  

Do you have any pieces of advice or tips for our younger readers who are perhaps thinking about going into anthropology or museums? 
I was raised in a community where your usefulness was measured by service to others; where ancestors were not owned; and respect was earned, never demanded. These same values continue to underpin our cross-cultural discipline of Museum Ethnography. It is uniquely grounded in the very essence of our humanity, which physically manifests in the cultural objects of identity found in museums throughout the world. As I explain to my students: it's all about boundaries: Museum Ethnography will provide you the reflexive toolkit to recognize and negotiate these complex boundaries. Be prepared to serve those communities you study, demonstrate trust and in turn they will serve you, your career and your future descendants. 

Have you seen any major changes in our field over the past decade? If so, what are they? 
Recognition of source communities as co-producers; developing field of museum ethics; realization that museums in colonized countries rest on a local kin group landscapes who should be engaged as partners in governance/management of cultural property held in museums; willingness of curators to engage indigenous communities again, but as equals!  

Where do you see the field of museum anthropology going? 

Current museum trends - past two decades - have been toward user pay commercialized business models. Sadly this has been at the expense of research and community service/engagement. In museums' rush to capture market share due to ever increasing operational constraints I fear museums will lose their vitality, becoming glorified tourist attractions where research based curatorship will disappear and museums once unique academic based point of difference will be lost. I believe the key is for museums to focus strongly on their collections and find innovative ways to engage in new research that is demonstrably useful to wider their wider communities and national well being. 

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