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Exchanging Objects: Nineteenth-Century Museum Anthropology at the Smithsonian Institution

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Volume 12

Museums and Collections

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Exchanging Objects

Nineteenth-Century Museum Anthropology at the Smithsonian Institution

Catherine A. Nichols

268 pages, 36 illus., bibliog., index

ISBN  978-1-80073-052-6 $120.00/£89.00 Hb Not Yet Published (April 2021)

eISBN 978-1-80073-053-3 eBook Not Yet Published

Hb View cartYour country: United States - Click here to remove geolocation   Recommend to your Library Available in GOBI®


“This is an excellent and important contribution to scholarship…(Nichols) has also done a fine job of explaining how a focus on duplicate exchange transforms our entire (mis)understanding of museums as places only for accumulation and preservation.” • Ira Jacknis, Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology


As an historical account of the exchange of “duplicate specimens” between anthropologists at the Smithsonian Institution and museums, collectors, and schools around the world in the late nineteenth century, this book reveals connections between both well-known museums and little-known local institutions, created through the exchange of museum objects. It explores how anthropologists categorized some objects in their collections as “duplicate specimens,” making them potential candidates for exchange. This historical form of what museum professionals would now call deaccessioning considers the intellectual and technical requirement of classifying objects in museums, and suggests that a deeper understanding of past museum practice can inform mission-driven contemporary museum work.

Catherine A. Nichols is an Advanced Lecturer in Cultural Anthropology and Museum Studies at Loyola University Chicago, where she serves as Director and Curator of the May Weber Ethnographic Study Collection. Previously she was the Assistant Curator at Arizona State University's Museum of Anthropology. Her work on exchanges at the Smithsonian Institution and Field Museum has been published in Museum Anthropology, Museum and Society, and History and Anthropology. In addition to curatorial work, she is currently developing critical digital projects with museum databases and archival systems.

Subject: Museum Studies Anthropology (General) Cultural Studies (General)


List of Illustrations and Tables
List of Abbreviations
Lists of Relevant Smithsonian Institution/USNM Personnel

Introduction: A Bowl’s Journey, There and Back Again

Part I: The Museum Through the Lens of Specimen Exchange
Chapter 1. The Smithsonian and the Museum: Specimen Exchange as a Bridge between Joseph Henry’s Research Institution and Spencer Baird’s Grand Cabinet
Chapter 2. Spencer Baird’s U.S. National Museum & Early Trends in Exchanging Anthropological Duplicates (1861-1880)
Chapter 3. Networking the National Museum: Exchanging Anthropological Duplicates (1882-1920)
Chapter 4. Giving & Receiving: Specimen Exchange Between Curators & the Shaping of Anthropological Collections

Part II: The Duplicate
Chapter 5. Duplicates: Specimens in Motion
Chapter 6. Catalogs, Classification and Contingency: Designating Duplicates

Conclusion: Museum Pasts and Futures



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