Consultancy, networking and brokerage: the legacy of the donor in museum practice

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Within museum studies, there has been a tendency to assume a distinction between the personal expression of the private individual’s collecting tendencies and the more scientific rationalism of museum accession. The transfer of the collection from private to public property has been seen as an expunging process; as an ideological jump from amateur understanding to professional knowledge; and as the point of the termination of donor impact on collection shape and trajectory. This paper seeks to redress this imbalance, arguing for a closer recognition of the influence of ‘amateur’ collectors and donors on the institutional process of public collection formation. It identifies the continued reliance of museum ‘professionals’ on ‘amateur’ donors for advice about object display, documentation and categorisation after accession. Using relational research on the material collections and archives at Brighton Museum and Art Gallery, Cambridge University Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology and the British Museum, the paper explores the impact of collectors Richard Carnac Temple (1850-1931) and Edward Horace Man (1846-1929) on the professional practice of the museums they came into contact with. Posted in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands (India) as part of their colonial service, these men were enthusiastic amateur anthropologists and serial donors of Andamanese and Nicobarese material culture to museums in the UK (other recipients include the Pitt Rivers Museum, Manchester Museum, Salford Museum and Art Gallery, National Museums Liverpool and National Museums Scotland). Through their communications and gifts, these men are identified as brokers for the exchange and supply of their own and others’ objects, and as influential figures within the distribution of these objects across a nationwide network of museums. They will be shown as two indicative examples of a potentially broader trend in which donor instruction, advice and preference continued to influence the ideological trajectories of public collections which had previously been private, and as individuals who occupy an important space in the blurred historical boundary between amateur passions and professional practice.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)72-83
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Museum Ethnography
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2010

Bibliographical note

© 2011 Museum Ethnographers Group


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