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Review

The Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia

By Carol Mayer

November 4, 2013

Review By Jonathan Clapperton

On 23 January 2010 the Museum of Anthropology (MOA) at the University of British Columbia celebrated completion of its ambitious $55.5 million “Partnership of Peoples” renewal project. The expansion included the MOA Centre for Cultural Research, Multiversity Galleries housing more than ten thousand objects, an extra gallery for temporary exhibitions, a “moacat” digital catalogue system, and – the first of its kind – the Reciprocal Research Network (RRN), a digital platform providing access to First Nations items from the Northwest Coast. MOA has certainly come a long way from its humble 1927 beginnings as a cramped space in UBC’s library. Carol E. Mayer and Anthony A. Shelton’s edited collection, The Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia, celebrates both the new renovations and MOA’s lengthy history. The book is an introduction to, and showcase of, the museum’s collections: it is not a critical monograph such as Michael Ames’s Cannibal Tours and Glass Boxes: The Anthropology of Museums (1992). Nevertheless, this work will be of interest to museum scholars. 

The Museum of Anthropology, after an insightful and concise foreword, introduction, and history of MOA (including its most recent expansion), is organized geographically. It begins with British Columbia and highlights MOA’s famous and extensive Pacific Northwest collection before turning eastward, moving across North America, Central America, and South America to the circumpolar regions, then to Europe and Africa before progressing to Asia and then Oceania. The final chapter is dedicated to MOA’s archives, specifically its substantial photography collection. Each chapter includes a general history of the collection and its importance in relation to other holdings in MOA as well as to other museums. However, by far the greatest amount of attention is paid to the specific objects and photographs showcased in the book. Nearly every page features an image, each of which comes with one or two brief descriptive paragraphs and each of which is categorized according to its origin and date of creation and acquisition (if known). 

The two driving, intertwined themes that the contributors to this volume continually emphasize are cutting-edge development and collaboration with the diverse peoples and communities represented by MOA’s collections. According to the authors, MOA’s mandate as both a teaching/ research and a community museum, its location on Musqueam First Nation traditional territory, and its “visionary” (11) directors has ensured that MOA has always had an inclusionary atmosphere. Absent is discussion of the sometimes bumpy road fraught with tensions between MOA and its communities, as well as among its staff, which has marked the museum’s history. Yet, I think it is the willingness of MOA’s personnel to continually re-evaluate MOA in light of severe criticisms that gives it an incredibly rich and fascinating history and makes it one of the foremost institutions of its kind. Nonetheless, in fulfilling its purpose as a celebratory overview of moa’s philosophy, history, and collections, The Museum of Anthropology is a beautifully executed success. 

 

The Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia
Edited by Carol E. Mayer and Anthony A. Shelton
Vancouver/Toronto: Douglas & McIntyre, 2010.237 pp. $40.00 paper