University of Leicester
2018BARRETTNMPhD.pdf (88.3 MB)

Meshworks of meanings: photographs of Māori and their taonga

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posted on 2018-08-28, 08:27 authored by Natasha Michelle Barrett
This interdisciplinary thesis examines the meanings and uses of commercial colonial-era photographs (1860s-1914) of Māori, the indigenous people of Aotearoa/New Zealand, and their taonga or cultural treasures. It does so by exploring interpretative historical and contemporary questions within British museum and Māori contexts. To achieve this, it draws on British Museum, Pitt Rivers Museum and Russell-Cotes Art Gallery and Museum collections; interviews with curators from these museums; participant observation and interviews with Ngāti Rānana, the London Māori cultural group; exhibitions; publications and manuscripts. Central to the thesis is a dual theoretical framework. This novel approach combines Mātauranga Māori or Māori knowledge and worldview with lngold's anthro-phenomenological concepts. Specifically this includes lngold's "meshwork of relations" or the unbreakable interconnections between things (2011a: 86) and alternative approach to animism or the life force in everything. Accordingly, the thesis positions photographs as relationally enmeshed objects with material properties, and sensory and affective qualities. The thesis contributes to scholarly research across museum studies, anthropology and photography in British and New Zealand contexts, including the burgeoning field of photographs in museums. It explores and analyses the photographs' creation and uses as souvenirs by museum collectors visiting New Zealand, and Māori involved in tourism in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries; and historical and contemporary roles in British museum exhibitions. Moreover, it considers why and in what ways photographs became part of Māori remembrance practices, and how they are viewed contemporarily. It contends they are taonga with mauri or life force, ancestral presence and encoded knowledge of deep significance to descendant communities. This deepens understanding beyond visual content and has the potential to impact their management, display and interpretation in British museums.



Dudley, Sandra; Edwards, Elizabeth

Date of award


Author affiliation

School of Museum Studies

Awarding institution

University of Leicester

Qualification level

  • Doctoral

Qualification name

  • PhD


Due to copyright restrictions some images have been removed from both the print and electronic versions of this thesis.



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