University of Leicester
2015JAMESKAPhD.pdf (686.42 MB)

Gifting culture: comparing display practice at the British Museum and the Pitt Rivers Museum

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posted on 2016-04-07, 15:12 authored by Kirstin Ares James
Indigenous Research Methodology (IRM) is an approach to research defined by members of Indigenous Nations for research of topics that directly concern them (their communities, their families). Gifting Culture constitutes the first time that this approach has been applied to museums studies (in the UK). What is meant by this, is that while it could be argued that any Indigenous museum practitioner conducting museums research on the topic of their own culture, is conducting ‘Indigenous research’, they are generally using (or are required to use) Euro-Western, positivistic approaches to research inquiry, rather than Indigenous Research Methodologies. This study challenges that pattern by using a comparison of display practices at the British Museum (geographic approach to display) and the Pitt Rivers Museum (typological approach to display) as passageways into interrogation of the dominance of Euro-Western approaches to interpretation of Indigenous heritage. Conducted primarily from an Algonquian worldview (by a member of the Lumbee Nation) this study also considers relationships between its findings, methodology and whether or not museum display practices enact as ‘pure gift exchange’. In this study, objectstorytellers (museum objects) from each museum are anchoring participants. Audience mapping facilitates understanding the agency of these storytellers in their respective museum ecologies, while interviews with curators Jago Cooper and Laura Peers lend insight into the practical management of these respective collections. 1555 visitors were observed over a period of six observation days at the Pitt Rivers Museum and 4266 visitors were observed during seven days of observations at the British Museum. Gifting Culture includes a conventional Euro-Western discussion of the study, while also offering a non-European translation of the research experience in the form of an Ititamatpamá ( ‘Time Ball’).



Dudley, Sandra; Vavoula, Giasemi

Date of award


Author affiliation

School of Museum Studies

Awarding institution

University of Leicester

Qualification level

  • Doctoral

Qualification name

  • PhD



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