The British Museum and SOAS are jointly offering a PhD scholarship to study the history of collecting in Southeast Asia in the 19-20th centuries. A really interesting subject, but available only to UK/EU applicants. Deadline is 28 April 2015.
AHRC-funded project studentship in Department of Asia at the British Museum and the Department of History of Art and Archaeology at SOAS
The Department of Asia at the British Museum and the Department of History of Art and Archaeology at SOAS invite applications from suitably qualified UK/EU candidates for a full-time, 3-year Collaborative Doctoral Award funded by the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council on the subject of ‘Thick provenance: interactions between European and Southeast Asian collecting practices refracted through the lens of the mainland Southeast Asia material at the British Museum.’
The project is a critical and comparative history of collecting in mainland Southeast Asia in the 19th-20th centuries. It proposes to examine the biographies of the British Museum’s mainland Southeast Asian collections, comprising analysis of modes of object ownership, perceptions of value, and exchange practices with reference to accumulation of family heirlooms and communal palladia (sources of protection and legitimation), as well as diverse modes of object circulation.
The mainland Southeast Asian collections at the British Museum contain lowland Buddhist objects, lacquerware, weapons and knives, archaeological material, pipes, and coins and banknotes, which are largely well-catalogued. More extensive, however, is the body of highland ethnographic material, including textiles and objects of daily use, such as baskets, which have not been thoroughly catalogued or researched. These objects come from the wide panoply of peoples, from the Chin and Naga in the western areas to the Shan, Karenni and Lahu of the eastern and central ones, who live in the mountainous regions of Southeast Asia and are not confined by national borders. Little is known about how these objects were collected and used locally and regionally, the roles they played within their local communities, or the means by which they were collected and arrived at the British Museum. It is anticipated that the student will focus upon this latter body of material for the PhD in order to provide a better understanding of object usage and ownership within regional and group relations, as well as the interactions between Europeans and locals at the time of collection.
While the title suggests political interference and cultural bias, the article informs more about the curation of collections at the National Museum of Malaysia, which may now be too big for its size.
Cabinet interference in museum programmes?
Free Malasia Today, 04 April 2012
01 Jun 2007 (Computerworld Singapore/Malaysia) – It’s a massive undertaking, but one that will be welcomed by anyone interested in the art and archaeology of China. The National Palace Museum of Taiwan is seeking to digitise its massive collection – taken out of China in 1949 to prevent its destruction – into an online database. China is a key reference point in understanding the archaeology of Southeast Asia. For example, the diffusion of metalworking technologies during in neolithic mainland Southeast Asia is inexplicanly linked to Chinese styles. The existence of many Southeast Asian polities (Srivijaya, Funan and Chitu for example) are cross-referenced to Chinese records of tributes and emmisaries received in the Chinese court. Chinese ceramics are common finds in Southeast Asia excavations and shipwrecks, and important in providing a dating reference.
Ancient China’s treasures go digital
The largest and most valuable collection of ancient Chinese art and artifacts in the world is being entered into the digital universe in Taiwan by museum curators and IT managers intent on freeing it from its physical boundaries.
The goal is to make the massive collection available on the Internet. Researchers will be able to find rare documents in an easy-to-use database, teachers will be able to download information and images they can use in course work, and visitors will enjoy vivid exhibitions, films, music, access to favorite works of art and virtual tours.
“The culture effect is more important than the technology. We’re trying to give people a warm feeling about these artifacts. We want the human touch,” said James Lin, director of the information management center at the National Palace Museum in Taipei.
The initiative is part of Taiwan’s government-funded National Digital Archives program and it aims to do for the treasures of China what was first done in 1925 — open them to the world. This time, however, it will display the museum’s treasures on a far grander scale. When the last Emperor of China was deposed in 1925, part of his Forbidden City was turned into a museum so the public could view the treasures collected there. It was meant to signify the turn to a republican government, in which all took part and no single person held special privilege over the artifacts.
No details on when exactly the database will be up, although I expect it will be quite a while before something comes up. There’s all sorts of politics involved (between China and Taiwan) over ownership of the artefacts too. You can read more about the proposed attempt to digitise the collections of the National Palace Museum.
Wondering about Chinese material culture showing up in Southeast Asia? Here are some sources:
– Art & Archaeology of Fu Nan by J. C. Khoo
– Angkor: The Khmers in Ancient Chinese Annals by P. Y. W. Chuen and W. Weng
– The Bronze Age of Southeast Asia (Cambridge World Archaeology) by C. Higham
– Chinese Celadons and Other Related Wares in Southeast Asia by the Southeast Asian Ceramic Society