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Q & A: Philipp Schorch discusses Refocusing Ethnographic Museums through Oceanic Lenses

Thursday 27 August 2020 9:33am

OUP released Refocusing Ethnographic Museums through Oceanic Lenses this month. Here, one of the authors, Philipp Schorch, discusses how the book came to be and why it's important.

Schorch for web

How did this book come to be?

In 2006, I joined Te Papa as Manager Te Papa Tours, managing guided tours mainly for international visitors. Then I wrote my PhD in partnership between Te Papa and VUW on the experiences of such visitors. Since that time, I have studied indigenous engagements with, and reinventions of, museums across the Pacific to also inform debates elsewhere, for example in Europe, as through this book.

What is the book about? What is it trying to achieve?

As the title indicates, this book sets out to refocus (rather than simply critique) ethnographic museums – much berated yet still important institutions – through Oceanic lenses. As an experiment in thinking and writing – through co-authorship across cultural differences – it zooms in on the vital relationships between people, material entities and environments within and beyond museums.

Who is involved?

Co-authors of the book are Noelle M.K.Y. Kahanu, Sean Mallon, Cristián Moreno Pakarati, Mara Mulrooney, Nina Tonga and Ty P. Kāwika Tengan. The underlying research was conducted at Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum, Hawai‘i; Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa; and Museo Antropológico Padre Sebastián Englert, Rapa Nui.

Why do you think this book is important?

Ethnographic museums and the academic discipline of anthropology have been intensely and rightly critiqued through (post)colonial perspectives. Yet, given the enormous challenges around the globe, a re-imagination of the human condition is more needed than ever. The book makes a modest contribution through the serious attempt to co-construct knowledge across domains of difference.

What do you think people will find most interesting in the book?

Co-authorship implies different voices, styles and genres. The interplay of content and form in this book shape an 'ethnographic kaleidoscope' through which parts of the world can appear in a different light. One just needs to take the time to read, think and look anew.

Learn more about Refocusing Ethnographic Museums through Oceanic Lenses