Saturday, 14 March 2015

ICOM-CC Working Group on Ethnographic Collections' name change

The ICOM-CC Working Group on Ethnographic Collections conducted a lengthy consultation (2008-2011) with its members in order to assess whether they wanted to change the group's name, and if so, what this name would be.  

The results of the consultations and surveys indicated that the name of the group should be changed to Working Group on Objects from Indigenous and World Cultures. A report was sent to ICOM-CC’s Directory Board in 2012, asking for authorization to implement the change but authorization was not granted.  However, during our business meeting in the 17th Triennial Conference in Melbourne it was made clear that the name change is essential to the membership and that we should keep pursuing it. 

Summary of proposal to change WG name from ‘Ethnographic Collections’ to ‘Objects from Indigenous and World Cultures’

1. Justification
The Name Change Committee was formed in response to increasing international scrutiny of terminology, concerns voiced by indigenous colleagues, and almost 20 years of internal group discussion. During the ICOM-CC 2008 conference the issue was discussed in a plenary paper [1] that noted for indigenous people (whose objects the Working Group on Ethnographic Collections purports to represent and advocate for relating to best practice and ethics). 

Current development in international thinking and policy in regards to the use of the word ethnographic mirror these sentiments. In recent years several museums and departments of ethnography have changed their names (British Museum Ethnography Department to Department of Africa, Oceania and the Americas; Royal Ontario Museum Ethnology Department to Department of World Cultures; Frankfurt Museum of Ethnology to Museum of World Cultures for example). Relevant international organisations and institutions have encoded the rights, interests and responsibilities of indigenous peoples in regards to their heritage (for instance 2005 UNESCO Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions; 2007 UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples), as reflected in the 2004 revisions to the ICOM Code of Ethics (Article 7) and the 2010 ICOM Diversity Charter. There is also the question whether objects themselves can correctly be called ethnographic. Originating communities do not refer to their own objects as ethnographic, rather by the name of the culture of origin. As ethnography is the study of cultures or people, labelling something as ethnographic locates its interest purely within that framework. Yet cultural material is of cultural importance, beyond this study. While in Europe the term ethnographic is usually not considered pejorative, in a post-colonial context (Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, United States and South America) it can be. In the words of a surveyed member of the Working Group on Ethnographic Collections; ‘I don’t consider the term ‘ethnographic’ to be racist or derogatory, but obviously many conservators do.’ As a consequence of these considerations, a discussion document was written and circulated by Carole Dignard (committee chair)2 and after this dissemination, relevant constituents were surveyed to ask if they believed that our working group required a new name (Members of ICOM-CC Working Group on Ethnographic Collections as well Ethnographic Conservation listserv members; Non-Members below) with a clear majority of respondents stating YES (70% Members, 68%Non-Members; Survey 1 June/July 2011).

2. Processes of consultation
As a result of a clear mandate for a name change, a number of processes to develop an alternative were undertaken as follows:
1.     Discussion Paper, April 2011 (definitions of terminology, pros and cons of change, 14 possible names)
2.     Membership Consultation survey1 June/July 2011 (26 possible names for ranking, 107 Members, 170 non-members surveyed; 40% response rate, 70% of members in favour of name change)
3.     Second Discussion Paper May 2012 (paper on WG Vision, broader context for name change, names or terms not supported by survey 1, discussion of three top ranked names; 1. WG on Objects from Indigenous and World Cultures 2. WG on Indigenous and Local Material Culture 3. WG on Indigenous and Traditional Material Culture)
4.     Membership Consultation survey 2 June 2012 (40% Member response rate; 63% Members who responded chose WG on Objects from Indigenous and World Cultures, 93% were satisfied with the Name Change process, 0 were unsatisfied, 7% were undecided)
5.     Membership Consultation survey 3 October/November 2012 (YES/NO to support name change to WG on Objects from Indigenous and World Cultures (response rate 36% Members, 20% Non-Members; YES =85% Members, 86% Non-Members; NO=10% Members, 11% Non-Members; Undecided/Other =5% Members, 3& Non-Members)

·       An exhaustive, consultative and democratic process has been followed, with a very high rate of participation
·       The experts in this field of conservation (i.e. members of this specific working group and their peers) are overwhelmingly in favour of a change
·       All ICOM-CC rules and procedures have been adhered too
·       So far the DB has responded negatively to the name change. Impediments to this change as articulated by past responses of the DB;
a) are contrary to the wishes of the members of the group in question (DB members stated they think name change unnecessary)
b) imply that the DB has greater knowledge than those in the group (DB stated they would like to choose the name from several options; DB members stated they think name change unnecessary)
c) ignore a democratic and consultative process (while not all members participated, a very high proportion did , and were overwhelmingly in favour of one name)
d) have no basis in ICOM–CC regulations (DB members stated our WG should consult with ICME; that all members have to agree)

1.     Bloomfield, T. 2008. Pupura te mahara - Preserving the Memory: Working with Maori Communities on Preservation Projects in Aotearoa / New Zealand. Preprints ICOM-CC Triennial. New Delhi.
2.     Dignard, C. 2012. Report to the ICOM-CC Directory Board Concerning the Possibility of Changing the Name of the ICOM-CC Working Group on Ethnographic Collections (WG-EC)- July 12, 2012 
3.     2007 UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People 

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Project Mosul needs volunteers

Project Mosul needs volunteers. Please consider giving some of your time to them.
They are looking for volunteers to help virtually restore the Mosul Museum. This includes finding photos, processing data, contributing to the website and generally helping out with organising the effort to identify the museum artefacts. If you can help, drop them an e-mail at

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