Soutien à un doctorat sous la co-tutelle de la SOAS et du British Museum

AHRC-funded project studentship in Department of Asia at the British Museum and the Department of History of Art and Archaeology at SOAS Deadline: 28 April 2015

Thick provenance: interactions between European and local collecting practices refracted through the lens of the mainland Southeast Asia material at the British Museum

The Department of Asia, The British Museum
The Department of History of Art and Archaeology, SOAS, University of London

The Department of Asia at the British Museum and the Department of History of Art and Archaeology at SOAS invite applications from suitably qualified UK/EU candidates for a full-time, 3-year Collaborative Doctoral Award funded by the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council on the subject of ‘Thick provenance: interactions between European and Southeast Asian collecting practices refracted through the lens of the mainland Southeast Asia material at the British Museum.’

The project is a critical and comparative history of collecting in mainland Southeast Asia in the 19th-20th centuries. It proposes to examine the biographies of the British Museum’s mainland Southeast Asian collections, comprising analysis of modes of object ownership, perceptions of value, and exchange practices with reference to accumulation of family heirlooms and communal palladia (sources of protection and legitimation), as well as diverse modes of object circulation.

The mainland Southeast Asian collections at the British Museum contain lowland Buddhist objects, lacquerware, weapons and knives, archaeological material, pipes, and coins and banknotes, which are largely well-catalogued. More extensive, however, is the body of highland ethnographic material, including textiles and objects of daily use, such as baskets, which have not been thoroughly catalogued or researched. These objects come from the wide panoply of peoples, from the Chin and Naga in the western areas to the Shan, Karenni and Lahu of the eastern and central ones, who live in the mountainous regions of Southeast Asia and are not confined by national borders. Little is known about how these objects were collected and used locally and regionally, the roles they played within their local communities, or the means by which they were collected and arrived at the British Museum. It is anticipated that the student will focus upon this latter body of material for the PhD in order to provide a better understanding of object usage and ownership within regional and group relations, as well as the interactions between Europeans and locals at the time of collection.

– What specific forms of object ownership, perceptions of value, and modes of exchange were operating in the select mainland Southeast Asian region and time period?

– How did the multiple European and local spheres of operation identified above overlap and intersect at specific historical moments?

– How did the current shape of the BM’s mainland Southeast Asian collections emerge from these encounters?

– How can the investigation of these processes enrich the concept of provenance to expand beyond traditional biographies of collectors and descriptions of objects in their cultural context?

From the point of application, the student will define the precise area and period to be examined within the broad framework laid out above. Refinement of the project will take place in the first year through explorations of the collections and relevant literature. Given the strengths of the BM collections, the project could fruitfully focus on the ethnic Tai regions that cover eastern Burma, northern Thailand and Laos, and southwestern China. It is expected that the student will further define the time frame within the broad 19th- to 20th-century period covered by the collections. The student will hone the conceptual focus of the project within the broad remit proposed. This could include focus on commodity exchange theory, the advent of the modern museum, the impact of Western collecting on local perceptions of object possession and trade, etc.

The three-year studentship, to start 1 October 2015, and based in the research community of the Department of Art and Archaeology at SOAS, offers a unique opportunity for the award-holder to undertake original research leading to a PhD. The student will also be part of the British Museum’s research environment where they will receive museum induction and training and will contribute to developing the museum’s Southeast Asian collections for public display and engagement.

The award will cover SOAS tuition fees and provide the standard AHRC maintenance award for three years. Additionally, the student will receive support from the British Museum of up to £1000 p.a. for approved travel and expenses, as well as a staff pass, a workspace with computer, research library access and staff privileges. Further funding may be available should the student need to undertake fieldwork in the Southeast Asia.

Supervision will be provided by Dr. Alexandra Green (British Museum) and Professor Ashley Thompson (SOAS).

For further details of the award, click here.

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