Panel at Annual Conference of the Museum and Galleries History Group, co-convened with Kajal Meghani (University of Brighton), ‘Gifts, Networks and Transnational Museums’, featuring Johanna Zetterstrom-Sharp (Horniman Museum/Goldsmiths), Emma Martin (Manchester), Patricia Banks (Mount Holyoke College).
One of the acts most closely associated with social and material networks is gift exchange. Inspired by the writing of Marcel Mauss, scholars from a broad range of disciplines have long considered the ways in which gifts can reflect and generate intimacy, affiliation, rivalry and hostility between individuals and communities. In its contribution to a conference dedicated to museum networks, this panel seeks to explore this critical material act and the relation of the gift to museum histories. The papers consider the types of networks generated by gift giving, as well as the ways in which gifts can act as desirable, strategic, reciprocal but also unwelcome and ill-conceived offerings that complicate networks in a myriad of ways. While recent museum histories of donation and gift giving have offered valuable revisions to our traditional understanding of power in museums, including identifying the influence of global actors on national museum practice, these papers also argue that the complex and often problematic nature of museum gifts requires continued consideration. Bringing together early career researchers with more established scholars and curators across disciplines, this panel explores the possibilities and limits of gift giving for museum networks and museum history.