North West Consortium Doctoral Training Partnership (NWCDTP)

A blog for students funded by a cross institutional scheme through the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) to train a new generation of skilled researchers. Offering postgraduate studentships and training across the full range of the AHRC’s disciplines. All views are those of students and are not necessarily those of the NWCDTP.

The Joy of Collections and a Small Ethical Quandary- Shelley Farrar

Paris 10

I am currently finalising the logistics of my next data collection session and I have been musing on the distinct privilege we have as postgraduate researchers in our ability to access many incredible collections and archives. Getting to see the behind-the-scenes work at various institutions has been one of my favourite aspects of this first year, along with meeting the interesting people who curate the collections. The next research trip will involve using an osteological collection based on animal specimens that were hunted in the early 1900s. A recent conversation with friends, on the broad subject of ethics, led me to think about how I felt using a collection for my project as someone who finds the sheer amount of animals hunted and brought together in such collections mildly uncomfortable. Of course with further thought any ethical implications are greatly reduced with the understanding that the collection is historical and the knowledge gained from the specimens was used for early conservation work (and moreover hunting and conservation are often inextricably linked). From a more personal viewpoint, I believe it is important that such collections are used for modern research, not only to further collective knowledge but as a way of preventing the waste of such specimens which would be inevitable if they were not used in some capacity. There may be similar considerations whilst undertaking other projects, for example when using fragile collections and archives or when destructive methods are necessary for research. For myself, whilst there are no official ethical implications to my research that have had to be though out beforehand, researching the collections I am using has allowed for interesting ethical discussions about arts and humanities projects which I previously had thought to only be in the realm of certain types of science and medical research.


One comment on “The Joy of Collections and a Small Ethical Quandary- Shelley Farrar

  1. peterkalu
    June 16, 2015

    To enter into those glass cages and actually hold the bones, must be such a trhill as well as a privilege. I sometimes wonder about old paintings being ‘cleaned’ or ‘restored’. Is something lost through this? With bones, the loss is via dissection /destructive examination?


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