Dr Conal McCarthy – Indigenous Museologies: Walking into the Future looking into the Past

Dr Viv Golding’s introduction neatly encapsulated Dr Conal McCarthy‘s thought provoking talk on indigenous museologies. As she noted, crucially Dr McCarthy’s research moves beyond the purely theoretical and into ways of thinking about practically working together.

Dr McCarthy is currently involved in a global research project focusing on indigenous museologies across New Zealand/Aotearoa, Australia, Canada and USA. This research is seeking to consider parallels and contrasts, and what can be learnt from the different ranges of experiences and developing practices.

Dr McCarthy grounded his talk by discussing the roles of Māori museum curators in Aotearoa, which are both familiar and unfamiliar, straddling both Western museological practices, and Māori ontologies and cosmos copes (for example the past being positioned in front and the future behind). Less familiar are curatorial object engagements of a multisensory and spiritual nature. This includes physically touching Māori taonga/cultural treasures without gloves and ways of arranging taonga according to concepts of tapu and noa (sacred and ordinary). Of key important to museums in Aotearoa is the development of strong collaborative links with iwi/Māori tribes. Within these relationships, museums are taking on a kaitiakitanga or guardianship role of the taonga and recognising and drawing on the knowledge of source communities and seeking their guidance with interpreting and exhibiting their taonga.

As well as a focus on the contemporary, Dr McCarthy drew attention to key Māori figures such as Sir Apirana Ngata, Makereti Papakura and carvers at the 1906 New Zealand International Exhibition (Christchurch). By revisiting the past through their stories, we can reveal submerged hidden histories that reflect indigenous agency within the museum world.

To conclude, Dr McCarthy’s presentation showed that developing indigenous museologies can offer fresh ways of thinking that have much to offer museology in general. For example, work drawing on James Clifford’s concept of the ‘contact zone’ has led to the development of the ‘engagement zone’ (Bryony Annette Onciul). Whilst Maori engagements in museology have led resulted in Te Ara Pourewa, a museum studies postgraduate diploma founded on a Maori world view.

References and further reading

Clifford, James. (1997). Routes: travel and translation in the late twentieth century. Cambridge, Mass; London: Harvard University Press.

Cosmoscopes Roberts, Mere. (2012). ‘Mind maps of the Maori’, GeoJournal, 77(6), 741-751.

Onciul, Bryony Annette (2011). Unsettling Assumptions about Community Engagement: A New Perspective on Indigenous Blackfoot Participation in Museums and Heritage Sites in Alberta, Canada of Work. PhD thesis, Newcastle University https://theses.ncl.ac.uk/dspace/bitstream/10443/1401/1/Onciul,%20B.A.%2012.pdf

McCarthy, Conal (2009). ‘Our works of ancient times’: History, colonisation and agency at the 1906-7 New Zealand International Exhibition,’ Museum History Journal 2:2, 119-42.



About Natasha Barrett

I have a heritage focus on the GLAM sector - galleries, libraries, archives and museums. My particular passions are museums and photography. I'm currently an AHRC Midlands 3 Cities funded PhD student in the School of Museum Studies at the University of Leicester. My cross disciplinary research focuses on colonial-era photographs of Māori (the indigenous Polynesian people of New Zealand/Aotearoa) and their sociocultural uses, including in British museums.
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