Celebrating World Anthropology Day 

By Karen Kindt, Collection Manager Anthropology 

What is Anthropology? 

Understanding who we are, where we come from and our place in the world, is critical to humanity. We can find meaning and answers through the discipline of Anthropology. Applying this discipline, through studying human behaviours and societies, we are able to understand the affects, on our physical, cultural and social environments. 

Anthropology helps us understand our human origins, our distinctiveness and our diversity as a species.  Museums, through their anthropology collection holdings, have a vital role to play in this understanding. They are a conduit for knowledge gathering and sharing. By conducting research on museum objects and collections and applying critical thinking, we are able to study past societies and human behaviours.  Anthropology collections take the form of both tangible and intangible cultural heritage, both of which assists us, with understanding the past and interpreting the present. 

The Queensland Museum Anthropology Collection 

Celebrating its 160th year, Queensland Museum is the State’s custodian of an anthropology collection that holds 69,353 registered objects, representative of 79 countries. The anthropology collection includes important First Nations collections from Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islander and Pacific communities; and a World Cultures collection, with objects from Africa, North & South America, Asia and Europe.  

Researching the Marson Collection 

Within the anthropology collection, is a significant ethno-musical collection comprising of more than 830 musical instruments sourced from around the world. Known as the ‘Marson Collection’, donors Charles & Kati Marson, stipulated that this very important collection, held in partnership with Griffith University Conservatorium, be utilised for ongoing research, display and performance purposes. Through careful conservation assessment, some of the musical instruments have approval for playing and use in musical performances. This opportunity enables community members and researchers to handle and play these instruments, which differs from usual museum handling protocols. This engagement with the objects, making lyrical notes and rhythms, exploring and physically connecting with the musical instruments, is referred to as a ‘living collection’, setting it apart from other collections held by the museum that are not afforded the same parameters. 

Karen Kindt, Collection Manager Anthropology, at work in the Marson Musical Instrument Collection, housed in the Anthropology Collections. Photo: Peter Waddington 

To mark the 20th year milestone of the acquisition of the Marson Collection, Dr Kirsty Gillespie, Honorary Research Fellow and Karen Kindt, Collection Manager, Anthropology, have been researching the documentation associated with the collection and archiving this valuable secondary information, to benchmark standards.  Archiving to these standards, ensures the documents are housed with acid-free support-card and enclosures and catalogued, enabling easy access, reducing the risk of damage, due to ongoing research handling, and long-term storage.  

Marson Collection documents are archived to benchmark standards. Photo: Peter Waddington 

With stage one archiving now completed, a digitisation project is underway. Digitising the documentation will ensure the perpetuity of this information recorded on these often-fragile documents.  Digitising the archive also gives greater capacity for sharing of information and dissemination to wider audiences.  The information extracted from these documents, such as purchase receipts, shipping manifests and certificates of authenticity, reveal contextual information including where the donor acquired the musical instrument, the price paid, country of origin, the community it belonged to and the age of the instrument. 

Community Engagement  

In parallel to the digitisation project, the research team aim to commence mapping a community engagement strategy to connect communities with musical instruments representative of their culture and country of origin. It is hoped that this community engagement and knowledge sharing, creates co-curation opportunities; the re-engagement and recovery of lost cultural knowledge; and enhancement of object contextual knowledge.

Dr Kirsty Gillespie examines a Bagana lyre, a traditional musical instrument of the Amhara people of Ethiopia. Photo: Karen Kindt 

Celebrating World Anthropology Day 

As we acknowledge World Anthropology Day on 17 February, it is timely reminder to consider the important role anthropology museum collections play. Understanding the significance of these collections through research, knowledge sharing and community engagement, highlights the relevance of these anthropology collection holdings, as they provide pathways into understanding who we are, where we come from our place in the world. 

To learn more about the Marson Collection listen to the Museum Revealed podcasts with Dr Kirsty Gillespie and Karen Kindt.