Object journeys: outreach work between National Museums Scotland and the Tlicho - NMS Research Repository
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Conference paper (published)

Object journeys: outreach work between National Museums Scotland and the Tlicho

2008

Abstract

Objects are always undertaking new journeys as they physically move with people, between people through exchange, and are used or engaged with by their makers, owners or users. These journeys diverge from the biographies of individuals or groups who are temporarily or transiently associated with them. The journeys that objects are taken on are both physical and metaphorical and bind together all the individuals whose personal histories are caught up with them in a network of stories and experiences. The collection of nineteenth century Athapaskan artefacts held by National Museums Scotland [NMS]consists of 240 objects,each with individual ‘travelogues’ or stories associated with them. These travelogues began to be recorded once the objects entered the museum and developed as they began to be viewed as a coherent unit; a ‘collection’. In 2006 the collection embarked upon another significant and symbolic journey which brought 40 artefacts back to the Northwest Territories the region from which they originated, providing an opportunity for the descendants of their makers and the traders of the artefacts to engage with them. The return journey of these artefacts from Scotland to Canada has also provided an opportunity to reflect on the past, on the craftsmanship involved in their production, and to encode the objects with their own set of contemporary meanings. Yellowknife, capital of the NWT, had been a manned trading post or ‘fort’ for the Hudson’s Bay Company but was now a city with a population of 18,000. In this context the objects resonated differently as they were viewed by the indigenous communities, other Canadians and foreign tourists. This twenty-first century journey was realised through an exhibition displayed in the territorial museum, the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre,an outreach programme to the communities, a published catalogue and an online catalogue. The exhibition and associated activities were the culmination of five years of work in partnership with the PWNHC, NMS, the Government (formerly the Dogrib Treaty II Council) and the University of Dundee and was inspired by the nineteenth century fur trade collection held by NMS. The existence of this collection has provided the impetus and the physical focus of a sustained partnership between the museum and the Tlicho, enabling the redisplay, reinterpretation and, ultimately, a shared research programme on an important part of the NMS collection. This relationship between all the partners of the project has slowly evolved through a series of visits to Scotland by representatives of the partners and fieldwork in the region by NMS curatorial and conservation staff. For NMS this work has led to a re-evaluation of the collection, its importance to our respective communities and NMS’s role in capturing Tlicho history (and Scotland’s part in their history) through the collection. The project, which is ongoing, has enabled NMS to rethink its collection strategy with particular regard to communities and cultures already represented in the collections.

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