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Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology


In the Museum, we have an obligation to ensure that we are being ethical in the way that our objects are donated, handled, cared for and displayed, to ensure that the cultures, people and objects are treated respectfully and correctly. We do this through research and communication with the people from the respective communities. 

Despite us being in a continuous process of learning, we know that sometimes our work can be out of date as practices, people and ethics are constantly changing.

We sometimes talk about objects having different “stories”, each of these might have different ethical considerations that we must acknowledge. 

We sometimes make the first object story its formation or creation. Here we might look at: who made this, how was it made, where and when, why was it made and what it is. We need to understand these areas as it helps us to know things like: 

  • Do we already have this object? 
  • How do we care for this object? Conditions, materials, storage, who gets to handle this object. 
  • Cultural significance? What does ethics mean to the source communities? 
  • Does it need to be in our collection? If so, how do we display it? 

A layered history

A second story surrounds how it gets to us here at the museum. This object history is as significant as the first story. We know that some of the collections that we have in our collection have dark colonial pasts, but unfortunately that is part of their stories of how they came to us. Despite us not standing with the imperialistic viewpoint we must acknowledge it. But this is not the case for all our objects, some have been donated by community groups and descendants. Here we ask: 

  • Do the objects need to be in our collection? 
  • If not, in the case of stolen objects, do we give them back to the people that they were stolen from? 
  • Why were they donated? 
  • How were they used and looked after? 
  • What is the impact of the object being in a museum?

It is the museum’s responsibility to do this work. 

Museum catalogues

The next story discusses more about how the museum catalogues objects and photographs. 

At MAA, the objects on display have labels and objects are carefully put into an order that reflects the culture and community, and so all our audiences can understand at least some of the stories around the objects. Here we ask questions about: 

  • What are the stories that need to be told? 
  • How do we put displays together? 
  • What can we do with the limited space? 
  • What stories will people walk away with? How will people interact with the objects and space? 
  • How do we make sure that the objects are accessible? Online collections, resources, etc… 
  • How people share visits?