Heritage image-making. How digital documentation makes the artefact in ethnographic museum collecting


  • Geoffrey Gowlland Cultural History Museum, University of Oslo




Collecting, ethnographic museums, photography, video, Taiwan, China.


This article reflects on the relationships between artefacts newly collected

by ethnographic museums and the digital images that illustrate such artefacts in

museum archives and catalogues. Taking three examples derived from collecting

activities and ethnographic fieldwork in China and Taiwan, the article reflects

on the potential of images to not simply “contextualise” artefacts, but to shape

the relationships that are established between museums, the makers of artefacts,

and the related source communities. More specifically, through three cases it is

discussed how images can: 1) come to position makers within a tradition, 2)

offer solutions to issues of rights over designs, and 3) link the collected artefact

to the land from which materials were gathered. In the concluding discussion,

four aspects of “images of collecting” are discussed: their materiality, their role in

the creation of value, risks of misinterpretation, and responsibilities involved in

editing and selecting images.


Author Biography

Geoffrey Gowlland, Cultural History Museum, University of Oslo

Ph.D., Honorary Research Fellow







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