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Extreme Collecting: Challenging Practices for 21st Century Museums

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Extreme Collecting

Challenging Practices for 21st Century Museums

Edited by Graeme Were and J. C. H. King

248 pages, 45 illus., bibliog., index

ISBN  978-0-85745-363-1 $135.00/£99.00 Hb Published (March 2012)

ISBN  978-1-78238-514-1 $29.95/£23.95 Pb Published (April 2014)

eISBN 978-0-85745-364-8 eBook

Hb Pb   Buy the eBook! $29.95 Request a Review or Examination Copy (in Digital Format) Recommend to your Library Available in GOBI®


We learn a lot [in this volume] about how museums think and work and by implication the self-representation of societies.  ·  Social Anthropology/Anthropologie sociale

“…the chapters are well written and informative…this volume brings us back to the persistent relevance of objects and collecting to museums. Although architecture and community building have taken center stage in museum discourse, this volume reminds us of what museums continue to do: collect. The primacy of objects in making places, museums, memories, and history remains central to their endeavor.  ·  Visual Anthropology Review

"This collection is an interesting concept, composed of telling case studies over a satisfying range of collecting topics... with some consideration of philosophical and theoretical perspectives."  ·  Linda Young, Deakin University


By exploring the processes of collecting, which challenge the bounds of normally acceptable practice, this book debates the practice of collecting ‘difficult’ objects, from a historical and contemporary perspective; and discusses the acquisition of objects related to war and genocide, and those purchased from the internet, as well as considering human remains, mass produced objects and illicitly traded antiquities. The aim is to apply a critical approach to the rigidity of museums in maintaining essentially nineteenth-century ideas of collecting; and to move towards identifying priorities for collection policies in museums, which are inclusive of acquiring ‘difficult’ objects. Much of the book engages with the question of the limits to the practice of collecting as a means to think through the implementation of new strategies.

Graeme Were is Chair of Anthropology at the University of Bristol. His current research focuses on material culture and ethnographic museums; digital heritage and source community engagement; and, ethnomathematics in the Pacific. His recent publications include Lines that Connect: Rethinking Pattern and Mind in the Pacific (University of Hawai’i Press, 2010), and Pacific Pattern, with S. Küchler (Thames & Hudson, 2005). He is a Fellow of the Royal Anthropological Institute and an editor of the Journal of Material Culture.

J. C. H. King writes about the art and material culture of Native North America, and is interested in wider issues of museum ethnography, cultural policy and the visual arts, and the collection of contemporary art, photography, and ephemera. He became research Keeper of Anthropology at the British Museum, in 2010. His recent publications include: Three Centuries of Woodlands Art: A Collection of Essays (European Review of Native American Studies, 2007), ed. with C.F. Feest, Provenance: Twelve Collectors of Ethnographic Art in England 1760–1990, with H. Waterfield (Somogy, 2006) and Arctic Clothing, ed. with B. Pauksztat and R. Storrie (British Museum Press, 2005).

Subject: Museum Studies Archaeology


List of Figures

Extreme Collecting: Dealing with Difficult Objects
Graeme Were

Part I: Dificult Objects

Chapter 1. The Material Culture of Persecution: Collecting for the Holocaust Exhibition at the Imperial War Museum
Suzanne Bardgett

Chapter 2. Lyricism and Offence in Egyptian Archaeology Collections
Stephen Quirke

Chapter 3. Contested Human Remains
Jack Lohman

Chapter 4. Extreme or Commonplace: The Collecting of Unprovenanced Antiquities
Kathryn Walker Tubb

Chapter 5. Unfit for Society? The Case of the Galton Collection at University College London
Natasha McEnroe

Part II: Mass Produced

Chapter 6. Knowing the New
Susan Pearce

Chapter 7. T he Global Scope of Extreme Collecting: Japanese Woodblock Prints on the Internet
Richard Wilk

Chapter 8. A wkward Objects: Collecting, Deploying and Debating Relics
Jan Geisbusch

Chapter 9. Great Expectations and Modest Transactions: Art, Commodity and Collecting
Henrietta Lidchi

Part III: Extreme Matters

Chapter 10. Extremes of Collecting at the Imperial War Museum 1917–2009: Struggles with the Large and the Ephemeral
Paul Cornish

Chapter 11. Plastics – Why Not? A Perspective from the Museum of Design in Plastics
Susan Lambert

Chapter 12. T ime Capsules as Extreme Collecting
Brian Durrans

Chapter 13. Canning Cans – a Brand New Way of Looking at History
Robert Opie in conversation with J.C.H. King

Notes on Contributors

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