This project aims to investigate the significant ethnographic collections that resulted from the 1903-4 expedition to British New Guinea, led by Major William Cooke Daniels and Charles G. Seligman. Now dispersed between museums in the United Kingdom and Australia over 2000 objects and associated archival materials remain largely unexamined. A comprehensive study of the collections is intended to reveal object biographies to inform new perspectives and a wider understanding of material culture from the Papua Region, Papua New Guinea.
Questions of agency and identity will explore how local forms of colonialism, and the intellectual interests and personal ambitions of expedition members shaped collecting practices; also interrogating the meaning and value indigenous people gave to materials and the manufacture of objects in the past, asking how objects were used and what social relations they engendered. Exploring this cross-cultural history and how it has shaped the Cooke Daniels collections will enhance knowledge and understanding of a shared past that can be both complex and controversial. A central aim of this research will be to theorise how historical collections can have meanings in the present for both museums and indigenous people.