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Collecting the West seminar

Collecting the West seminar

Indigenous collectors

With Associate Professor Tiffany Shellam (Deakin University)

It is now increasingly recognised that Indigenous people shaped or influenced the knowledge that was generated about specimens and artefacts that came to Europe from Australia in the nineteenth century. Artefacts collected in Australia by exploration expeditions and in colonial settlements in this era can be difficult to locate today due to many factors, including their circulation within networks of collectors and institutions across Australia and Europe. Tracing the involvement of Indigenous people in such collections is harder still. As in other colonial records, the acknowledgement of Indigenous collectors in the records of collecting institutions is uneven, occasionally offering rich accounts of the collector and the collecting context, but more often little more than suggestive remarks. However, even the occasional trace in a journal or museum register which hints at Indigenous involvement in collecting artefacts means that partial histories can be reconstructed. In this talk I highlight these ‘hidden histories’ – the moments of collecting, the transactions between Indigenous collectors and Europeans – in order to broaden the way we view the practice of collecting in an imperial and settler colonial context, focusing on the agency of Indigenous people.

Associate Professor Tiffany Shellam lectures in History at Deakin University. She works collaboratively with Noongar people, historians, curators and archivists to critique the colonial archives, unearthing hidden and alternative histories generated by encounters between Indigenous people and European explorers and settlers in the early 19th Century. Her book Meeting the Waylo: Aboriginal encounters in the Archipelago (UWAP 2019) won the Prime Minister’s Prize for Australian History in 2020.

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