UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

A partnership of peoples : understanding collaboration at the Museum of Anthropology Schultz, Elaine Ruth


The goals of museum collaboration are several, as are its intended beneficiaries. Assuming the success of the practice, local communities can gain the opportunity for self-representation and self-determination, museums can contribute to the creation and dissemination of new kinds of knowledge, and visitors can take home better understandings of cultural difference. While these are the ideals of collaboration, they frequently go unrealized, in large part because, as research indicates, the visiting public fails to recognize the active involvement of communities at museums. This raises the question as to whether, in the absence of this audience awareness, museum collaboration can fully contribute to the realization of the tolerant society that it purports to support. The purpose of this research is to examine the role of museum visitors in achieving the goals of museum collaboration, as well as to consider why this public has difficulty recognizing community involvement at museums and how this may be remedied. “A Partnership of Peoples” is an extensive renewal project underway at the Museum of Anthropology (MOA) at the University of British Columbia (UBC), designed to facilitate collaborative research at the museum. It also serves as a case study for my consideration of the relationship between museums and the visiting public as a part of the collaborative process. By speaking with both MOA staff and visitors, I gained insight into the intended goals of the renewal project with respect to the museum’s relationship with communities and the general public, as well as visitor understandings of collaboration. With this fieldwork, in addition to a literature review, I found that the significance of collaboration rests in the personal interactions that occur between individuals. As the majority of visitors do not benefit from these interactions during their time at the museum, they are at a disadvantage when it comes to recognizing the engagement of others in the creation of displays or the facilitation of research. The task for museums, then, is to make contemporary peoples visible and audible, connecting objects to communities and increasing opportunities for visitors to experience these personal meanings.

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