PacificAnthropology.org is the home of the Field Museum's Regenstein Pacific team.

What is co-curation?

On February 7, Dr. Christina Kreps (University of Denver) held a staff workshop entitled Appropriate Museology. Having given a public presentation of the talk the day before, Dr. Kreps ventured deeper into the topics of respectful collections care and language, decolonization of museum spaces, and the challenges faced by the Field and other institutions in the process of collaborative curation. Attendees included staff of the exhibitions, collections, curatorial, and conservation departments. The wharenui proved an apt and poignant place to hold this discussion, which evokes strong feelings in descendent communities and collections caretakers alike.


(L-R) Dr. Christina Kreps and Dr. Alaka Wali, curator of North American collections, lead a discussion in the wharenui.

FM staff participate in Dr. Kreps' discussion in the wharenui. Photo by Susan Neill.

Our co-curation gallery has been updated for 2019. The Museum’s Filipino-American community has chosen a new selection of materials for the Philippines case, including tattoo-related implements and an example of the Tagbanwa writing system. Both traditional tattooing and this writing system are experiencing something of a modern resurgence; our co-curators wanted to connect historical objects with contemporary interests in the Philippines.


Visitors can also see the second of our contemporary Fijian barkcloth wedding dresses (the other occupied this space last year.) Purchased by collections manager Chris Philipp in 2015, both dresses were made by Mere K. Morris, a dressmaker in Suva, Fiji. The barkcloth, known as masi, is stencilled with traditional designs on a contemporary style dress.


Distance can sometimes be a challenge in our efforts to collaborate with our partners in the Pacific, but exhibitions developer Ryan Schussler managed to work with a group of Kiribati and Kiribati-Americans via Facebook on our first co-curated Kiribati case. Ryan shared photos of the collection and asked a few questions of the Facebook group, who then discussed and made decisions about how they wished to represent their islands in the Field Museum. The case features everyday objects from Kiribati life in the 19th and early 20th centuries, as well as coconut fiber armor and a shark tooth trident meant for combat. The labels, and [coming soon] digital rails contain information and thoughts from our Kiribati co-curators.


A Facebook group enabled a small community of Kiribati-Americans to co-curate a case in the Regenstein Halls of the Pacific

Dr. Thane Militz and Nittya Simaro of University of the Sunshine Coast, Australia, examined the Museum’s collection of Melanesian shell money from the Bismarck Archipelago. Militz had seen black and white photographs of some of the Museum's collection back in 2017- but color is particularly important in identifying types of shell currency.


Militz and Simaro work with people in New Ireland, PNG, to study their methods of creating, using, and trading/selling shell currency. They will be returning to their community partners with detailed photos of our historic shell money from which modern practitioners hope to learn old methods of manufacture. Militz notes, "The New Ireland Province of Papua New Guinea (PNG) has long placed a cultural significance on shell-based valuables. The practice of producing shell money for trade or sale continues today. For many small island communities, far from major markets and without arable land, shell money production is one of the few cash-generating livelihood opportunities available. The production of shell money continues to be used for traditional exchange rites and, more recently, supplies a contemporary shell-based handicraft industry (being incorporated into earrings, necklaces, bracelets, etc.)"


(L-R) Chris Philipp, Nittya Simaro and Thane Militz examine fragments of shell money strands from New Ireland.

Samples of different stages and materials used in shell money making, from the Duke of York Islands