Ethics and Collecting in the ‘Postmodern’ Museum: A Papua New Guinea Example

  • Elizabeth BonshekEmail author
Part of the Ethical Archaeologies: The Politics of Social Justice book series (ETHARCHAEOL, volume 4)


It is commonplace today for museums to have collection development policies governing acquisitions and collecting, accompanied by statements concerning the need for ethical standards in acquisition, the latter referencing ICOM standards and appropriate legislation. This chapter turns from museum policy to focus on the events and issues met within the process of making a collection of pottery from Papua New Guinea, for a museum holding ethnographic objects. I delineate the preoccupations of the pot makers concerned and compare these with the aims and objectives of the museum as a collecting institution including the role of the collector as museum agent and fieldworker. In presenting this case study, I illustrate that the specific actions of ‘ethical’ collecting cannot necessarily be stipulated in advance, beyond the broadest/abstract statements of intention: but such statements of intention must be able to accommodate divergent local views, without being able to predict what these may be.


Cultural Heritage Fair Price Museum Collection Australian Museum Museum Staff 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


  1. Alexander, E., & Alexander, M. (2008). Museums in motion: An introduction to the history and functions of museums. Lanham: AltaMira.Google Scholar
  2. Allen, L., & Hamby, L. (2012). Pathways to knowledge: Research, agency and power relations in the context of collaborations between museums and source communities. In Byrne, S., Clarke, A., Harrison, R., & Torrence, R. (Eds.), Unpacking the collection. Networks of material and social agency in the museum (pp. 209–229). London: Springer.Google Scholar
  3. Australian Museums. (1989). Policies and principles of collection management. Sydney: Australian Museum.Google Scholar
  4. Australian Museums. (2008). Ethnographic collection development strategy, 2008-2012. Sydney: Australian Museum.Google Scholar
  5. Australian Museum. (2014). Cultural Collections Acquisition Policy, 2014-2017. . Accessed 2 September 2014.
  6. Belk, R. (2006). Collectors and collecting. In C. Tilley, W. Keane, S. Küchler, & P. Spyer (Eds.), Handbook of material culture (pp. 534–546). London: Sage.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Bennett, T. (1995). The birth of the museum: History, theory, politics. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  8. Besterman, T. (2006). Museum ethics. In S. MacDonald (Ed.), A companion to museum studies (pp. 432–441). Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell.Google Scholar
  9. Bonshek, E. (1989). Money, pots and patterns: The Percy Money collection of bark cloth and pottery held at the Australian Museum. Masters Qualifying thesis, University of Queensland.Google Scholar
  10. Bonshek, E. (2005). The struggle for Wanigela: Representing social space in a rural community in Collingwood Bay, Oro Province, Papua New Guinea. Doctoral dissertation, Australian National University, Canberra.Google Scholar
  11. Bonshek, E. (2008). When speaking is a risky business: Understanding silence and interpreting the power of the past in Wanigela, Oro Province, Papua New Guinea. Journal of Material Culture, 13(1), 85–105.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Bonshek, E. (2011). Collecting relations: Contemporary collecting in Papua New Guinea. Journal of Museum Ethnography, 23, 7–20.Google Scholar
  13. Bonshek, E. (2012, August). The complications of reflecting upon the past: Research and museum collections. Paper presented in the session Shifting Traditional Museum Boundaries: Research, Agency and Power Relations, Australian Anthropological Society, Brisbane.Google Scholar
  14. Busse, M. (2000). The National Cultural Property (Preservation) Act. In K. Wimp & M. Busse (Eds.), Protection of Intellectual, biological and cultural property in Papua New Guinea (pp. 81–95). Canberra: ANU Asia-Pacific Press.Google Scholar
  15. Chapman, W. R. (1985). Arranging ethnology: A. H. L. F. Pitt Rivers and the typological tradition. In G. W. Stocking Jr. (Ed.), Objects and others. Essays on museums and material culture (pp. 15–48). Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press.Google Scholar
  16. Commonwealth of Australia. (2009). Collecting cultural material: Principles for best practice. A resource for Australia’s collecting institutions. Canberra: Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts.Google Scholar
  17. Conn, S. (2010). Do museums still need objects? Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press.Google Scholar
  18. Council of Australian Museums Association. (1993). Previous possessions, new obligations: Policies for museums in Australia and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Melbourne: The Council.Google Scholar
  19. Craig, B. (1996). “Samting bilong tumbuna: The collection, documentation and preservation of the material cultural heritage of Papua New Guinea. Doctoral dissertation, Flinders University of South Australia, Adelaide.Google Scholar
  20. Edson, G. (Ed.). (1997). Museum ethics. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  21. Egloff, B. (1979). Recent prehistory in Southeast Papua. Canberra: Australian National University.Google Scholar
  22. Genoways, H. (Ed.). (2006). Museum philosophy for the twenty-first century. Oxford: AltaMira.Google Scholar
  23. Hein, H. (2000). The museum in transition: A philosophical perspective. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press.Google Scholar
  24. Humphrey, C., & Hugh-Jones, S. (1992). Barter, exchange and value: An anthropological approach. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. International Council of Museums. (2013). ICOM code of ethics for museums. Paris: ICOM.Google Scholar
  26. King, M. E. (1982). The ethics of ethnographic collecting. Council for Museum Anthropology Newsletter, 6(4), 2–8.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. King, J. (1997). Franks and ethnography. In M. Caygill & J. F. Cherry (Eds.), A. W. Franks: Nineteenth-century collecting and the British Museum (pp. 136–159). London: British Museum Press.Google Scholar
  28. Knell, S. (Ed.). (2004). Museums and the future of collecting. Farnham: Ashgate.Google Scholar
  29. Lidchi, H. (2012). Great expectations and modest transactions: Art, commodity and collecting. In G. Were & J. C. H. King (Eds.), Extreme collecting: Challenging practices for 21st century museums (pp. 131–156). New York: Berghahn.Google Scholar
  30. MacDonald, S. (2006). Collecting practices. A Companion to Museum Studies. Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. McLeod, M. (1993). Collecting for the British Museum. Milan: Carlo Monzino.Google Scholar
  32. Museums Australia. (2005). Continuous cultures, ongoing responsibilities: Principles and guidelines for Australian Museums working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural heritage.
  33. O’Hanlon, M. (1993). Paradise: Portraying the New Guinea Highlands. London: British Museum Press.Google Scholar
  34. O’Keefe, P., & Prott, L. (Eds.). (2011). Cultural heritage conventions and other instruments: A compendium with commentaries. London: Institute of Art and Law.Google Scholar
  35. Peers, L., & Brown, A. (2003). Museums and source communities: A Routledge reader. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  36. Perrot, P. (1997). Museum ethics and collecting principles. In G. Edson (Ed.), Museum ethics. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  37. Quinnell, M. (2000). “Before it has become too late”: The making and repatriation of Sir William MacGregor’s official collection from British New Guinea. In M. O’Hanlon & R. L. Welsch (Eds.), Hunting the gatherers: Ethnographic collectors, agents and agency in Melanesia, 1870s-1930s (pp. 81–102). Oxford: Berghahn.Google Scholar
  38. Russell, R., & Winkworth, K. (2010). Significance 2.0: A guide to assessing the significance of collections. Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia.Google Scholar
  39. Sandell, R., & Nightingale, E. (2012). Museums, equality and social justice. Abingdon: Routledge.Google Scholar
  40. Sayers, R. (1991). Museum collecting in a postmodern world: A Korean example. Museum Anthropology, 15(3), 8–12.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Specht, J. (1979). Anthropology. In R. Strahan (Ed.), Rare and curious specimens: An illustrated history of the Australian Museum 1827-1979 (pp. 141–150). Sydney: Australian Museum Trust.Google Scholar
  42. Stanley, N. (Ed.). (2007). The future of indigenous museums: Perspectives from the Southwest Pacific. Oxford: Berghahn.Google Scholar
  43. Stocking, G. (Ed.). (1985). Objects and others: Essays on museums and material culture. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press.Google Scholar
  44. Thomas, N. (1991). Entangled objects: Exchange, material culture and colonialism in the Pacific. London: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  45. Tuckson, M., & Patricia, M. (2000). The traditional pottery of Papua New Guinea. Adelaide: Crawford House.Google Scholar
  46. Vergo, P. (Ed.). (1989). The new museology. London: Reaktion.Google Scholar
  47. Weil, S. (2002). Making museums matter: A reflection on the nature of museums. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press.Google Scholar
  48. Wetherell, D. (1977). Reluctant mission: The Anglican Church in Papua New Guinea 1891-1942. St. Lucia: University of Queensland Press.Google Scholar
  49. Williams, F. E. (1923). The collection of curios and the preservation of native culture. Port Moresby: Papua Government Printer.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Heritage, Museums and Conservation, Faculty of Arts and DesignUniversity of CanberraBruceAustralia

Personalised recommendations