Museums, Infinity and the Culture of Protocols: Ethnographic Collections and Source Communities, 1st Edition (e-Book) book cover

Museums, Infinity and the Culture of Protocols

Ethnographic Collections and Source Communities, 1st Edition

By Howard Morphy


126 pages | 4 B/W Illus.

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Hardback: 9781138565593
pub: 2019-10-29
eBook (VitalSource) : 9780203705186
pub: 2019-10-17
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Museums, Infinity and the Culture of Protocols enters a dialogue about museums’ responsibility for the curation of their collections into an infinite future while also tackling contentious issues of repatriation and digital access to collections.

Bringing into focus a number of key debates centred on ethnographic collections and their relationship with source communities, Morphy considers the value material objects have to different ‘local’ communities – the museum and the source community – and the value-creation processes with which they are entangled. The focus on values and value brings the issue of repatriation and access into a dialogue between the two locals, questioning who has access to collections and whose values are taken into consideration. Placing the museum itself firmly at the centre of the debate, Morphy posits that museums constitute a kind of ‘local’ embedded in a trajectory of value.

Museums, Infinity and the Culture of Protocols challenges aspects of postcolonial theory that position museums in the past by presenting an argument that places relationships with communities as central to the future of museums. This makes the book essential reading for academics and students working in the fields of museum and heritage studies, anthropology, archaeology, Indigenous studies, cultural studies, and history.

Table of Contents

List of figures


1. Introduction: living with museums

2. Museums, ethnographic collections, and the creation of value

3. Different locals: reflections on Indigenous Australian collections

4. Contested values in the curation of human remains

5.Open access versus the culture of protocols

6.Conclusion: collections, time, and identity


About the Author

Howard Morphy is an Emeritus Professor and Head of the Centre for Digital Humanities Research at the Australian National University. In his career he has moved between museums and university departments and feels at home in collections and archives as much as in the field. He spent ten years at the Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford University, as curator and lecturer. In 2013 he was awarded the Huxley Medal of the Royal Anthropological Institute.

About the Series

Museums in Focus

Committed to the articulation of big, even risky, ideas in short-format publications, Museums In Focus challenges authors and readers to experiment with, innovate, and press museums and the intellectual frameworks through which we view these. It offers a platform for approaches that radically rethink the relationships between cultural and intellectual dissent and crisis and debates about museums, politics and the broader public sphere.

Museums In Focus is motivated by the intellectual hypothesis that museums are not innately ‘useful’, safe’ or even ‘public’ places, and that recalibrating our thinking about them might benefit from adopting a more radical and oppositional form of logic and approach. Examining this problem requires a level of comfort with (or at least tolerance of) the idea of crisis, dissent, protest and radical thinking, and authors might benefit from considering how cultural and intellectual crisis, regeneration and anxiety have been dealt with in other disciplines and contexts.

Books published in the series are between 30,000 and 50,000 words in length and fully refereed.  If you would like to discuss submitting a proposal, please contact the series editor: [email protected]

Further information about Professor Message's work can be found here:

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Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
ART / Museum Studies
LANGUAGE ARTS & DISCIPLINES / Library & Information Science / General
SOCIAL SCIENCE / Archaeology
SOCIAL SCIENCE / Indigenous Studies