UCL Anthropology


Graeme Were


E-mail: g.were@ucl.ac.uk

Website: http://www.materialworldblog.com/

BSc (Hons) Sociology, Social Anthropology and Mathematics
University of Keele, 1992

MSc Social Anthropology (Distinction)
University of London, 1998

PhD Anthropology, University College London, 2003
'Pattern, thought and the construction of knowledge: the question of the kapkap from New Ireland, Papua New Guinea'

Senior Research Associate in Anthropology in the Department of Anthropology, UCL

General Interests

  • Design, technology and material culture in society
  • Ethnomathematics, calculation and learning
  • Museums: collections, histories and practices especially ethnographic museums 
  • Pacific ethnography, new religious movements with particular attention to the Baha'i Faith 

Regional Expertise

  • Papua New Guinea
  • Tonga and the Pacific

Current Research Projects

Graeme currently lectures on the MA Material & Visual Culture programme whilst managing the teaching and research collections in the university museum. He has developed collection-led courses in material culture at UCL including the Graduate School supported programme Ethnographic Object Analysis which aims to train research students in the key skills necessary for engaging with ethnographic collections. His current book (in press) entitled Lines that Connect, develops a new theoretical understanding on the relation between pattern, design and mind in the Pacific. He is also guest editor on special issues of Textile: the Journal of Cloth and Culture as well as Visual Communication, the latter on the subject of prototypes and prototypicality in art history, anthropology, archaeology and architecture. This volume draws on a highly successful seminar series run by UCL Museums & Collections in 2007.

Graeme has been elected by the Royal Anthropological Institute to present the Curl Lecture 2011.

His current research covers three main areas:

(1) Materials and design in the Pacific.

He is currently collating a series of fine-grained studies on Pacific materials, focused on drawing out technical perceptions and aesthetic/sensory dimensions that influence their uptake in design. This research involves conducting ongoing fieldwork in Papua New Guinea focused on understanding how craftspersons select plant materials to create the associations and aesthetics of the product they are designing. His work also examines how knowledge of materials is sustained and the role of materials in heritage discourses. This latter idea is particularly important in the context of the Baha'i faithful in New Ireland, whose activities offer an alternative path towards a unified and just future.

(2) Digital heritage technologies and source communities.

As part of the University of Bergen project, this research takes a critical examination of digital heritage technologies in the context of the ethnographic museum. Currently, this has involved the 3D scanning of a 30 foot Solomon Islands war canoe in the British Museum. The technology creates a scaled facsimile of the actual canoe and includes details of plank construction and shell inlay design, as well as bringing together different parts of the canoe which were separated during its classification within the museum. While the image offers the potential for a renewed idea of object completeness, its possible future digital repatriation opens up debates about technical knowledge, ethics, access and politics amongst Pacific Island communities.

(3) Material culture and calculation.

This research draws on my previous work on pattern and ethnomathematics in the Pacific. Currently I am interested in the relation between subtractive and additive techniques in design, focused around the relation between carved wooden bowls and plank canoes in ethnographic collections from the Solomon Islands. The idea of calculation comes to the fore when considering how social relations are imagined and orchestrated through processes of scaling; expansive (additive) as opposed to restricted (subtractive) techniques applied to materials in design. This work involves revisiting early twentieth century ethnographies of the western Solomon Islands together with an anticipated field trip in 2010 to the Solomon Islands and collections research at the British Museum.

Recent Projects

Co-Investigator, Pacific Alternatives project, Norwegian Research Council project working with colleagues in the University of Bergen http://pacific.uib.no/pacific_alternatives.htm

Principal Investigator, AHRC funded seminar series in collaboration with British Museum on Extreme Collecting 2007-8 www.ucl.ac.uk/extreme-collecting

Principal Investigator, AHRC funded project working on Ethnographic Collections Documentation 2007-8

Co-Investigator AHRC/EPSRC funded E-Science project investigating Digital Heritage Technologies 2007-2008 http://www.museums.ucl.ac.uk/research/ecurator/

Co-Investigator, ESRC Research workshop series on New Materials, New Technologies 2008 http://www.ucl.ac.uk/anthropology/conferences_workshops/new-materials-new-technologies

Graeme is a Fellow of the Royal Anthropological Institute, a member of the Museums Association and Museum Ethnographers Group (MEG) and an Editor of the Journal of Material Culture.


Pacific Pattern - lead curatorial advisor of touring exhibition: British Museum (2005), Bergen University Museum (2006), Captain Cook Birthplace Museum (2007)

Other Awards

Pasold Conference Fund (2006) - 'The Fabric of Life: Textile Technologies in Contemporary Society' One-day workshop at Horniman Museum, London www.ucl.ac.uk/textile-technology

ESRC Postdoctoral Fellowship (2004-5) - 'The Efficacy of Pattern and Decorative Art in Melanesia '- Goldsmiths College London

British Academy Small Research Grant (2004) - funding for research into crochet and associated fibre technologies in Tonga

ESRC Research Assistant (2001-3) - Clothing the Pacific, British Museum

ESRC Postgraduate Studentship (1999-2003), University College London

Emslie Horniman Scholarship for Anthropological Research (1999) - for research into collections of artefacts from New Ireland (Papua New Guinea) in European museums

Recent Publications

Were, G. (2010) Lines that Connect: Rethinking Pattern and Mind in the Pacific Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press

Were, G. (2005) Pacific Pattern (with S. Küchler and G. Jowitt) Thames & Hudson: London

Edited Volumes & Collections  
WERE, G. and J.C.H. King (forthcoming)  Extreme Collecting

WERE, G. (2010) Prototypes, special issue of Journal of Visual Communication 9(3)

WERE, G. and J. Jefferies (2010) Tensions: Transforming Social Relations, special issue of Textile: Journal of Cloth & Culture 8(1)

WERE, G. and S. Kuechler (2005) The Art of Clothing: a Pacific experience UCL Press: London

Journal Articles & Book Chapters
WERE,G. (in press) 'Of skin, blood and bone: the kapkap of New Ireland, Papua New Guinea.' In L. Bolton, L. Bonshek & N. Thomas (eds.) Artefacts of History. London: British Museum Press

WERE,G. (2010) 'Re-engaging the university museum: knowledge, collections, and communities at University College London' Museum Management & Curatorship 25(3): 291-304

WERE,G. (2010) 'Prototypes: an introduction' Journal of Visual Communication 9(3): 267-272

WERE,G. (2010) 'Introduction: Tensions' Textile: Journal of Cloth & Culture 8(1): 4-9, (with Janis Jefferies)

WERE,G. (2010) 'Pacific pattern: a snapshot' and 'The social life of cloth' (with S. Kuechler). In Berg Encyclopaedia of World Dress & Fashion. Oxford: Berg

WERE,G. (2009) 'Empathy with materials: rethinking the technical nature of action' Techniques et Culture 52-53: 190-211 (with S. Kuechler)

WERE,G. (2009) 'Niabara: the Western Solomon Islands war canoe at the British Museum. 3D documentation, virtual reconstruction & digital repatriation' Proceedings of the 15th International Conference on Virtual Systems & Multimedia VSMM 2009. Vision or Reality? Computer Technology and Science in Art, Culture Heritage, Entertainment and Education. Vienna: Austria, Sept. 9-12 (with M.Hess, S.Robson, F.Simon Millar, E.Hviding, & C.A.Berg)

WERE,G. (2008) 'Out of touch? digital technologies, ethnographic objects and sensory orders'. In Chatterjee, H. (ed.) Touch in Museums Berg: Oxford, 121-34

WERE,G. (2007) 'Fashioning belief: the case of the Baha'is in northern New Ireland' Anthropological Forum 17(3): 239-53. Special issue on MacPherson's theory of the Possessive Individual

WERE,G. (2006) 'Kapkap: the art of connecting in island Melanesia' Journal of Pacific Art NS1: 27-35

WERE, G. (2006) 'Symbols of power & leadership' pp56-57 & 'Malagan woven sculpture; vavara' (with S. Küchler) pp190-191. In M.Gunn & P.Peltier (eds.) New Ireland: Art of the South Pacific, Musee du Quai Branly: Paris

WERE,G.(2005) 'Thinking through images:kastom and the coming of the Baha'is to New Ireland, Papua New Guinea' Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 11(4): 659-76 

WERE,G. (2005) 'Pattern, efficacy and enterprise: on fabricating connections in Melanesia'. In S. Küchler & Daniel Miller Clothing as Material Culture Berg: Oxford, 159-74

WERE,G. (2003) 'Objects of Learning: an anthropological approach to mathematics learning' Journal of Material Culture 8 (1): 25-44

WERE,G. (2003) 'Clothing and Innovation: a Pacific perspective' Anthropology Today 19(2): 3-5 (with S. Küchler)

WERE,G. (2001) 'Problems in documenting the kapkap: unravelling pattern in Melanesia' Journal of Museum Ethnography 13: 94-105

Current / Former PhD Students

Marilena Alivizatou (Museum Studies) "The concept of intangible heritage in ethnographic museology" (Completed 2009)

Francesca Simon Millar (Department of Anthropology): AHRC-funded studentship examining digital craft and image perception (expected completion 2011)