Faculty of Social & Historical Sciences


60 seconds with... Professor Haidy Geismar

17 January 2020

Meet Haidy Geismar, Professor of Anthropology in the UCL Department of Anthropology. Haidy will be delivering herInaugural Lecture, 'The Future of Museum Anthropology', on Tuesday 24 March 2020. Read on for a sneak preview...

The Future of Museum Anthropology

Tell us a little about your research...

This year Im on sabbatical. For the first few months I have been a senior research fellow at the Tate Gallery, working with Pip Laurenson on her Mellon Funded project, "Reshaping the Collectible". Through intense focus on specific artworks, either in, or coming into, the Tates collections, the project asks how these works are challenging, and shaping, practices of collections care in the Art museum. Im thinking about what it might mean to institutionalize collections care for social relationships in museums, bringing anthropological theories into dialogue with collections care practices around contemporary art. In the second part of the year, Im moving linking this work on collections care and conservation to new modes of collecting. Working with the Collecting Social Photo project, based in the Nordisk Museet in Stockholm, we are developing a prototype for collecting smart phone photography and Im collaborating with the Vanuatu Cultural Centre and National Museum to see how this might be customised to fit local collecting and research priorities. 

Why is your research important?

My work explores the ways in which museum technologies and practices of collecting, conserving, researching and presenting create powerful descriptions of identity, within broader debates around who owns culture. I’m particularly interested in what challenges museum processes of digitization raise in these contexts. Working with colleagues in digital anthropology at UCL we are unravelling the normative assumptions about digital media that often obscure existing power dynamics around the control of knowledge. Digital culture is an arena that contains some of the most creative thinking about intellectual property, for example, and also some of the most powerful foreclosures around the ownership of data. Undertaking ethnographic work of digital practices, in my case of the processes of digitization that translate objects into data within museums, is vital in order for us to become engaged participants rather unwittingly allowing existing inequalities to be coded into new digital forms. 

What inspires you in your research?

I’m inspired by human beings – no story is too mundane and I’m always talking, listening, trying to understand where people have come from, where they are going, what they want, what they think, why they do what they do.  

What has been your most memorable career moment so far?

Working in Vanuatu, and in New Zealand has been really humbling; I feel very privileged to have been invited to learn something of the deep cultural significance behind the objects in our museum collections. Good memories of times in Vanuatu drinking kava and gossiping in the nakamals (kava bars) of Port Vila, recording songs describing the arrival of colonial government in the small island of Atchin, weathering out hurricanes and volcanic eruptions, and sharing stories of our different cultural backgrounds and seeing these collaborations come together in exhibitions, publications, web projects, and performances.

What passions/hobbies do you have outside of work?

I love singing and am in a small amateur singing group. We perform three times a year and each time raise money for a different charity. I also love walking, yoga, flamenco dancing, reading, and sleeping.

What book is currently on your bedside table?

Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss which is about a group of archaeology students undertaking an experimental archaeology re-enactment by living in an iron age settlement in Northumberland, narrated by an unwilling teenager who has been drafted into help by her family. Its sitting on top of The Age of Surveillance Capitalism, by Shoshana Zuboff.

Book tickets for Haidy's lecture


Inaugural Lecture Series 2019/20

This lecture is part of the 2019/20 series for UCL's Faculty of Arts & Humanities and Faculty of Social & Historical Sciences. The series provides an opportunity to recognise and celebrate the achievements of our professors who are undertaking research and scholarship of international significance, and offers an insight into the strength and vitality of the arts, humanities and social sciences at UCL.

All our lectures are free to attend and open to all. You don't have to be a UCL staff member or student to come along.

Lectures begin at 18:30 and are typically one hour long. A drinks reception will follow, to which everyone is welcome to join.

We look forward to meeting you at one of our events.

Take a look at the full programme below and register your place on our Inaugural Lectures Eventbrite page.