Journal article

Uncertain objects and ethnographic possibilities: thinking through the Smithsonian-Universal African Expedition

Publication Details

Author list: De Morais A

Publisher: Routledge

Publication year: 2020

Journal: Safundi:Journal of South African and American Studies

Volume number: 21

Issue number: 1

Start page: 1

End page: 29

Total number of pages: 29

ISSN: 1753-3171

eISSN: 1543-1304



The early twentieth century saw the proliferation of museum-sponsored
expeditions seeking to collect footage, artifacts, and specimens
to expand museum collections. These expeditions were faced
with obstacles that rendered the process of collecting at the least
constrained, and often haphazard, with ramifications for the African
material culture accessioned from collecting expeditions, and held
by research museums today. This paper considers what such
objects can still tell us, despite the uncertainties they concretize. I
situate my discussions in relation to the travels of the Smithsonian-
Universal African Expedition that commenced a year-long journey
of scholarship, filming and collection, from Cape Town to Cairo, in
1919. Attending to such objects might allow us to understand the
breadth of motivations, desires, and constraints that animated the
past better, and to establish new terms through which to understand
the postcolonial present.


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Africa, Failure

Last updated on 2021-22-04 at 12:17