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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Life history of a collection: the Tahltan materials collected by James A. Teit Fenn, Catherine


This paper documents the life history of the Tahltan materials from northwestern British Columbia collected by James A. Teit in 1912 and 1915 for the Geological Survey of Canada. The paper situates the collector's work in the social and institutional contexts that influenced his activities, gives recognition to the Tahltan people who contributed to the collection’s construction, and provides an overview of how the collection is currently organized in the Canadian Museum of Civilization (CMC). I address the questions: what is the life history of this collection? and what constitutes this collection today? Naming and classifying activities, macro-systems of museum classification, contribute to, and indeed create, the dispersed nature of large museum collections. Removed from communities and social settings, assembled 'artefacts' are dispersed to central holding agencies far afield from ethnographic sites and the originating peoples. Thus, the paper focusses on the relationship between field collecting and museum collections as archival records exemplified by the collection assembled by Teit in northwestern British Columbia. Further, the paper addresses the issues arising from the report of the Task Force on Museums and First Peoples (1992). The conclusions of the Task Force call for improved access to collections by aboriginal peoples and point to the pressing need to carry out inventories of existing collections. Originally created to accommodate and even facilitate academic research, museum classification practices actually impede the implementation of the Task Force's recommendations.

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