A History of the World in 100 Objects Symposium Videos

Article | Updated 3 years ago

Olmec stone mask, 900-400 BCE, Mexico.
Olmec stone mask, 900-400 BCE, Mexico.
©Trustees of the British Museum

A History of the World in 100 Objects Symposium Welcome and Introduction by James Dexter

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Dr Belinda Crerar

Exhibition Curator – A History of the World in 100 Objects, British Museum
Reading without words: a history told through things

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For many of us, an association between ‘history’ and ‘books’ is almost automatic. The History of the World in 100 Objects exhibition is a different kind of history, one that asks questions not of texts, but the things that people made. This talk will explore some of the stories brought to light in the exhibition and how they affect the ways in which we perceive our past.

Since joining the British Museum in 2012, Belinda Crerar has managed the collection of Romano-British antiquities as well as being a lead member of the major cross-collection research project Empires of Faith. She is now a curator in the British Museum’s International Engagement Department, focussed on developing cross-collection exhibitions using an inter-disciplinary approach.

Dr Sven Ouzman

Senior Lecturer, Centre for Rock Art Research and Management, University of Western Australia
Stories in stone: walking toward the future in the footsteps of our ancestors

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Stone tools from Lomekwi in East Africa dated to 3.3 million years ago are our oldest evidence of the work of hominin hands. Nearby, the Laetoli trackway dated to 3.7 million years ago is our oldest evidence of the work of hominin feet. Both tools and trackway represent the start of an enduring association between people and stone. This relationship will be explored at the micro-level using individual stone tools, ochre and fossils – and at the macro-level, tracing how people transformed the stone spaces around them in places through rock art and other socio-symbolic markings.

Dr Sven Ouzman is a rock art researcher based at UWA’s Centre for Rock Art Research + Management. Previously, he was Curator of Archaeology at Iziko South African Museum. He has worked in southern Africa and northern Australia. His research interests are archaeology, rock art, museums, teaching, heritage and especially how the past and present connect.

Dr Moya Smith and Xavier Leenders

Head of Anthropology and Archaeology, WA Museum; and
Assistant Curator, Anthropology and Archaeology, WA Museum
Sacred or secular : the reimagining of ancient objects

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An archaeologist trained in the early 1970s ‘new archaeology’ and the power of ethnographic analogy and an anthropologist discovering coded meaning question whether notions of a dichotomy of sacred and secular have resonance for ancient objects, and indeed for perhaps any objects. We explore ideas of entangled objects, of layered meaning, the possibility that objects of both sacred or secular nature are encoded with cultural substance by right of the symbolic relationships they share with people (be they creators, users, or even viewers).

Dr Moya Smith is Head of the Western Australian Museum’s Anthropology & Archaeology Department. Her earliest Museum work was as a salvage archaeologist. A result of one survey of archaeological sites on the Dampier Peninsula led to long term work with Bardi community members and thinking about the differences between the rich knowledge of traditional activities that community members continue to value and the archaeological record. Moya has continued to work with Bardi community members for over 30 years, her current interests include how Kimberley peoples want their stories told in Museum contexts. Over the last 15 years much of Moya’s work has revolved around exhibitions, including two incarnations of the Museum’s long term exhibition of Aboriginal cultures Katta Djinoong - First Peoples of WA.

Xavier Leenders is the Assistant Curator of Anthropology at the Western Australian Museum. His work brings him in contact with a variety of objects, from ancient artefacts to contemporary things. With research interests ranging from environmental relations to rock climbing and coffee consumption , Xavier’s passion lies in the practices of material culture that imbue our day to day lives.

Professor Peter Veth and Professor Jo McDonald

Professor in Archaeology, Kimberley Foundation Ian Potter Chair in Rock Art, The University of Western Australia; and,
Director, Centre for Rock Art Research and Management, The University of Western Australia
The recursive nature of Aboriginal rock art in Australia: cultural transmissions through multiple media

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Archaeological investigations of rock art shows that it is reproduced through time and that these ‘canvases’ are part of a much larger cultural repertoire in which objects, stone arrangements, peoples’ bodies and even the ground on which they walk are all marked in related and meaningful ways. There are both similarities and differences in the way this is done between the Western Desert and Kimberley. For the Martu people of the Western Desert engravings are seen to be made, and indeed are transmogrifications, of Ancestral Beings who reside in both the Jukurr (Dreaming) and the present. The pigment rock art, however, is seen to be the product of human intervention and belongs to the ‘human present’. In contrast, for Worroran people of the Kimberley, pigment art is placed on rocks by Wandjina during the Lailai – and has been for at least the last 4,000 years according to radiometric dating of Wandjina imagery. The refreshing of paintings by people through repainting is mandated and is seen as critical to the rejuvenation of the monsoon and to servicing a range of cultural and social mores. In addition to the copying and refreshing of rock art in a recursive fashion, much iconography also appears in body design, on portable plaques, on everyday objects such as spear-throwers and even in the design of sand paintings and arrangements. Cultural transmission is ensured through reproduction in these multiple media throughout both areas.

Professor Peter Veth holds an ARC Discovery Outstanding Researcher Award and is the Inaugural Kimberley Foundation Ian Potter Chair in Rock Art at UWA. He has published widely on the archaeology of deserts, the origins of maritime societies, and the relationship between archaeology and rock art. In 2014 he was awarded the Rhys Jones Medal for Outstanding Contributions to Australian Archaeology. He has been a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Humanities since 2005.

Professor Jo McDonald is Director of the Centre for Rock Art Research and Management at UWA. She holds the Rio Tinto Chair of Rock Art Studies and has been an ARC Future Fellow (2011-2015). Her ongoing research interest is the genesis and transformation of arid zone rock art and she has study sites in the Australian Western Desert and North American Great Basin. She has published widely on style, information exchange, gender, heritage management of rock art and has undertaken regional analyses in the Sydney Basin, Murujuga (Dampier Archipelago) and Pilbara more widely.

Dr J D Hill

Head of Research, British Museum and Visiting Professor, Institute of Advanced Studies, University of Western Australia
Every object tells a story; but is it the object or the story teller that is most important?

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Telling stories with objects is what museums do. The exhibition A History of the World in 100 Objects challenges visitors and museum staff to ask what makes a good object centred story, and how this might be different for objects that are two million years old, compared to two years old.

Dr J D Hill is a visiting professor at the Institute of Advanced Studies at the University of Western Australia and has worked for the British Museum since 1999. He was the lead curator with Neil MacGregor for the BBC Radio series and book A History of the World in 100 Objects and worked with colleagues from the Western Australian Museum to create the exhibition Extraordinary Stories in 2011.

Professor Steven Tingay and Charmaine Green

Director, Murchison Widefield Array, Curtin University; and,
Director Chair, Mara Art Aboriginal Corporation (Yamaji Art)
Listening to the stars: cutting edge astrophysics meets Aboriginal ways of knowing through the antennas of the Murchison Widefield Array (MWA)

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Professor Steven Tingay and Yamaji artist Charmaine Green discuss their unique journey over the past six years. Installed in the traditional country of Western Australia’s Wajarri Yamaji peoples – country that is remote and red – the MWA antennas sit, silently collecting radio waves from when the Universe first began. Placement in country has inspired a unique relationship between astrophysicists and Yamaji artists, including Traditional Owners. On trips to visit the antennas, these two disparate groups began to strike a bond over the night sky - the shared heritage of all of us on Earth. They began to explore one another’s universes, learning different ways of thinking about the world and the cosmos and making striking discoveries. Hundreds of new works of art were produced, which toured internationally, and in many ways, the interaction has been as far-reaching socially as the astounding contribution to science that results from the project.

Professor Steven Tingay is the new Direttore, Osservatorio di Radioastronomia (Radio Astronomy Observatory) of the Istituto Nazionale di Astrofisica in Italy, from the start of 2016 for a three year period, on secondment from Curtin University. Until recently, Steven was a Western Australian Premier's Research Fellow, Director of the Curtin Institute of Radio Astronomy, Director of the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research, and Director of the Murchison Widefield Array (MWA) project. Steven has authored or co-authored over 170 papers in international refereed journals and has attracted over $80m of research funding.

Wajarri-Badimaya woman Charmaine Green is a social sciences researcher (Aboriginal health), poet, visual artist and Chairperson of Mara Art Aboriginal Corporation (Yamaji Art). Charmaine is based in Geraldton Western Australia.

Dr Mathew Trinca

Director, National Museum of Australia
The politics of things: relational meaning of collections to communities

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The contemporary museum increasingly looks to the strength of its relationships with publics as a marker of its success in fulfilling a redescribed social role, one that sees it as an engaged, plural institution committed to engaging and participatory practices. Museum collections of material culture are central to this engagement, and their connection to communities lie at the heart of museums’ attempts to redescribe audiences as active participants in their work. In Australia, work with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander collections, in particular, has led to new modes of engagement and involvement between museums and Indigenous communities. Work between museums and communities in other ‘settler’ nations, such as the United States, Canada and New Zealand, has similarly shown how objects can connect museums and communities. Moreover, these linkages between museums and source communities open up new fluid, ‘relational meanings’ for collections once regarded as having ‘fixed’ identities as ethnographic or historic artefacts. This paper will look at the recent collaborative project between the National Museum of Australia, British Museum, and 27 Indigenous source communities in Australia to examine how such work transforms our understanding of museum collections, and sees them as active agents of culture rather than as simply illustrative of past lives and experience. It will also argue that the implications of such projects can reasonably be extended to all work in museums that seek an active and engaged social role.

Dr Mathew Trinca is the Director of the National Museum of Australia, and the Secretary of Museum’s Australia National Council Executive. He is well-known for his work in collections and gallery developments and has research interests in Australian history and museological theory and practice.

Alec Coles OBE

Chief Executive Officer, WA Museum
Making it real: the changing nature of collections

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Museums’ unique selling point is their authenticity: they deal with real things. However, the nature of these things is changing: the rare and exceptional now jostle with the commonplace and representative. Natural science collections are increasingly represented at the molecular level. The collection of real stories, testimonies and memories has acquired new urgency. What does this mean for future collecting? What, and how, should we collect – and who decides?

Alec Coles, OBE is CEO of the Western Australian Museum with branches in Perth, Fremantle, Geraldton, Kalgoorlie and Albany. He was previously Director of Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums, England. He aspires to create a museum that is owned and valued by all West Australians and admired by the world.