Oral Presentation Session
Reviewed by: Society for Visual Anthropology
Of interest to: Practicing and Applied Anthropologists, Students
Primary Theme: Materiality
Secondary Theme: The Visual
How do histories become sedimented and materialized? How is heritage made "tangible" and visible? This panel seeks to explore the overlaps between the material and the visual, and between historical production and sensory engagement. Drawing, in part, on the work of Michel-Rolph Trouillot, this session examines the materiality of history and its objects through the lens of heritage as an image-generating machine (Probst 2007). In Silencing the Past (1995), Trouillot asserts the irrevocably material nature of history, pointing to the ways in which these concrete historical traces that mark our landscapes — whether they are buildings, monuments, ruins, dead bodies, books, or boundaries — shape, refigure, and limit the power of historical narratives. Also bound within Trouillot’s contention are questions of the resilience of history’s ambiguities and what it means to resist hegemonic narratives. We seek to expand this conversation into the realm of visual anthropology and its methodologies. Trouillot notes that history is produced — and silenced — at various stages: the making of sources, the creation of archives, through narration, and as history in the final instance: what becomes accepted as "the canon." At what points might the visual intervene to resist these silences, or add to their power? In what ways can the generating of images and other visual representations of history and heritage ever escape dominant configurations of power?
The papers in this session engage creatively with the permeable boundaries between heritage, material culture, and history by querying why and highlighting how these three classical anthropological themes are deeply enmeshed in ways of seeing and inextricably linked to the production of asymmetries of power. Through a set of wide-ranging ethnographic examples from Ecuador, Chile, and Bhutan, these papers take on the relationship between image production and history-making to explore a variety of social and cultural formations. Another paper analyzes the historical context and production of an archaeological collection at the Museum of Anthropology in Vancouver, British Columbia, through a “digital” prism; in other words, it seeks to trace how the act of digitizing material culture and thus visualizing a particular historical narrative are interlinked.