top of page

Many museum with origins in the nineteenth century hold large collections of weaponry. Whilst a hundred years ago displays of arms and armour from around the world were in vogue, today these collections tend to be overlooked by curators. In 2015 I organised a two-day international conference with the aim of reassessing what role weapons might play in the work done by contemporary museums.

The conference and subsequent volume* (which I edited) brought together curators, academics, artists, and audience engagement professionals. Important contributions were made by members of origin and diaspora communities. A consistent theme was how certain types of weapons had been misunderstood by curators as things with a primary function of inflicting harm, whereas actually they were envisaged by their original users as symbolic objects, not to be used in anger. Equally, we confronted artefacts which spoke of the valorisation of specific acts of violence. How to address objects such as these in exhibitions is a deeply complex question, and often they are perhaps best left in the stores. An inspiring example of how difficult collections can be engaged with, however, was offered by the artist Temsuyanger Longkumer. Reimagining his ancestors’ practice of headhunting he had made casts of the heads of elders and projected onto them film of the same elders sharing stories of their youth (see the video below).


* Crowley, Tom and Mills, Andrew (eds.) 2018. Weapons, Violence and the Anthropology Museum. Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars.

bottom of page