Heritage Matters: Culture and Development in the Pacific

Lead Research Organisation: University of Cambridge
Department Name: Museum of Archaeology & Anthropology


Museums in the Pacific region have the potential to play a vital role in the sustainable development of their nations. They are associated with the preservation of tangible and intangible heritage, and have the capacity to communicate customary knowledge of the environment, and local approaches to resource management, work, value and social relations. But they are also institutions of civil society, able to support education and community cohesion. Heritage, in the Pacific, is not exclusively past practice, but the negotiation of identity and the attachment to place in the context of the economic and environmental challenges of the present. While universal models of heritage and of museums are not necessarily appropriate to Pacific settings, museums can constitute spaces of engagement and partnership, in which local values and accomplishments are foregrounded. Already institutions in which culture is represented and celebrated, they have the capacity to become places in which local approaches to the future, including prospective engagement with NGOs and donor nations, are assessed and explored.

This pilot project will focus on two museums within the Pacific: the Solomon Islands National Museum in Honiara, and the Kiribati Cultural Centre in Tarawa. The project will aim to exemplify partnership, as opposed to donor-led, approaches to cultural heritage development projects, and will produce a report and journal articles, outlining the specific needs and goals of each museum, that could be addressed through larger, future projects. The project's comparative orientation aims to draw attention to the heterogeneity of Pacific settings, and hence suggest ways of assessing the extent to which successful approaches may or may not be transferable.

The project will contribute to making displays and testing public and community engagement programs based in the two museums that are socially purposeful, effective and sustainable. The project will also make a concrete contribution to the development of professional capacity in Kiribati and the Solomon Islands, through the Indigenous internships offered, and through cross-cultural knowledge exchange between project staff, museum staff, consulted experts, and local people.

The project will result in journal articles targeting scholarly and practitioner communities in anthropology, development studies, cultural policy studies, museum and heritage studies, and Pacific studies, and will generate reports for each of the museums, their stakeholders and for organisations with related interests, that will provide a basis for future work.

Planned Impact

Engagement and impact is integral to this project over its duration. Its basis is in fieldwork and in collaborative research, exploring and assessing the work of the two museums, and the scope for and value of new forms of museum-based activity and engagement. Through interviews, focus groups, community meetings and other discussions, it will at once gather information and work toward evaluation, and enable participants to raise their own questions, make their own evaluations, and consider how institutional practice can be modified or enhanced, in relation to social benefit and sustainable development goals.

This dialogical research practice will be sustained as the project progresses, and disseminated through posts and updates on social media platforms, as well as reported more formally through presentations to stakeholders, particularly during the project's summative phase, when the RA makes a second, return visit to both institutions to present and discuss the project reports. These visits will encompass engagement with the widest practical range of professionals and community members, not only museum staff and relevant civil servants, but others including members of local associations, elders and teachers. Impact is not an adjunct to fieldwork of this kind, but continuously a feature of its dialogue with those who are at once participants, collaborators and local end-users of the work undertaken. The project's core aim, to move away from a donor-led to a partnership-based approach to cultural development, and to understanding the contribution of museums to sustainable development goals, requires continuing outreach.

In addition to impact in two nations that this pilot project focusses upon, the project will have impact among cultural professionals in the region. Findings will be disseminated through meetings, seminar and conference presentations, among museum staff, cultural and heritage professionals in regional centres such as Suva, Fiji, and to institutional networks, such as the Pacific Islands Museums Association, and to others working in relevant fields, affiliated with museums in Australia and New Zealand, as well as those in Europe. These audiences will be reached informally through social media posts, through presentations at the meetings of relevant associations, through refereed, open-access journal publications, and through wide dissemination of project reports, to those in relevant government development agencies as well as NGOs.


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