MAA cares for a vast and remarkable collection of objects from across the world. To explore these collections without a focus would prove an insurmountable task. So, to aid our endeavour, we have identified a few themes through which to explore the collections in the first stage of the project. We are by no means limited to these themes, and are always open to suggestions for new and different ones! Just get in touch and we’d be delighted to work with you to develop a theme, a series of blog posts, or a bigger curatorial project, as long as each of these focus on the collections at MAA.

Object Diasporas

Objects circulate through a wide range of geographical, social, cultural, economic, and ecological networks, before being accessioned into museums as collections. This theme attempts to trace the journeys that objects have taken and the networks through which they have passed, before coming to Cambridge and MAA. In the process of mapping these journeys, this theme aims to uncover histories of conflict, colonialism, and commerce, whilst exploring the significance of these diasporic objects today. This theme will complement established programmes of provenance research at MAA, which address heritage from Africa and Oceania.

Substances of Wellbeing and Intoxication

Some substances we consume to rejuvenate ourselves, some to socialise, and some to energise. This theme will tell stories and pose questions about the role of popular drinks in different cultures, societies, and histories, such as tea, myriad forms of alcohol including wine and beer, or indeed chocolate for the Maya and Aztec people. It will explore the social, cultural, and economic contexts of the production and consumption of these substances, the networks through which material culture associated with them has passed before getting to the museum, and the interpretations that have been offered by collectors and curators. This theme will present stories of consumption, trade, and empire, as well as of health, intoxication, ceremony, and social history.

Making and Mending

In January 2023, the British Museum organised a two-day workshop exploring the role of mending in material histories. The range of topics covered in the papers presented prompted Katrina Dring, a Collections Assistant on the MAA Stores Move project to propose including this theme within the remit of the Digital Lab. Building on the questions addressed in the workshop, this theme focusses on processes of production, ruination, and conservation surrounding objects in the collections at MAA. It highlights practices of repair in the cultures to which the objects belong and those that took place at the Museum, analysing repaired objects as new entities. Finally, it questions whether repair is the best alternative for the care and conservation of objects.

Senior Curator in World Archaeology Jimena Lobo Guerrero Arenas, with workshop technicians Matt Buckley and Aran Lomas, looking at archaeological objects from Egypt.

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