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Mira (Mary) Morris

Senior Collection Manager, Ethnohistory Collections (State and Donald Thomson)

About me

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I am responsible for the management and development of the Ethnohistory Collection at Museums Victoria. This significant collection comprises photographs, manuscripts, film and sound material spanning 150 years, and represents Indigenous people from all over Australia and internationally. Key areas of my work include registration and cataloguing, developing and implementing preservation strategies, digitisation of collection material, acquisitions and enhancement of the collections with further documentation and research.

I have worked as both a curator and collections manager in the Indigenous Collections, and now the First Peoples department at Museums Victoria for more than 30 years, and have developed particular interests in the areas of visual anthropology, photography, and archaeology. My museum experience also includes exhibition development, publications and research on both the object and anthropology archives. Information and database management and documentation projects, including provenance research and acquisition history for all areas of the First Peoples Collections, has also been the focus of my work over many years.

Always interested in the history of First Peoples and archaeology, as well as the classics, I completed an Honours Degree in Archaeology at La Trobe University and developed a specific interest in the area of Australian Archaeology and Aboriginal History, with my thesis topic based on a Museum collection – re-examining a nineteenth century collection of stone artefacts in the twentieth century.

In 1989, I commenced a contract position in the Aboriginal Studies Department as a Technical Assistant. For the next two years, I was employed as a Curator contributing to a number of cataloguing and information management projects, and public programs including the Women’s Work exhibition and publication. During this time, I was also part of a project team that produced the publication, ‘Guide to the Victorian Aboriginal Collections’ in the Museum of Victoria. In 1992 I was appointed to my current position. Since then, I have introduced and applied fundamental collection management principles to the collection and have, to date, delivered the registration, cataloguing and rehousing of almost 30,000 ethnohistory items. In addition, I have undertaken numerous research and documentation projects across all the collections, to enhance and standardise these records further.

Since 2017, the Donald Thomson Ethnohistory Collection has also been part of my care and responsibility. A two-year review followed, documenting the size and status of this significant collection, resulting in the enhancement of the database records, and the finalisation of a detailed collection management report with future recommendations.

I have developed a keen interest in researching early collections and photographs, attributing provenance and identifications of people through comparative studies and to develop narratives and biographies of key collectors, photographers, ethnographers and Indigenous people depicted in the photographic collections. I have also spent many years repatriating images to individuals, families and communities for the purposes of photo documentation projects, development of cultural protocols, family history research and community history projects. I have also facilitated and supported hundreds of access and research enquiries relating to the Ethnohistory Collections for a range of research and publications.

Between 2009 and 2013 I was a Partner Investigator on an Australian Research Council funded project entitled ‘Reconstructing the Spencer and Gillen Collection: Museums, Indigenous Perspectives and the Production of Cultural Knowledge’. Working with the Australian National University, the project aimed to reunite the collections of Baldwin Spencer and Francis Gillen, in a digital format and to make collections available online. The project was completed in 2012 and in May 2013 the Spencer and Gillen website was launched. Since 2017 I have been a Partner Investigator on an Australian Research Council funded project, led by Deakin University, entitled ‘Howitt and Fison's Archive: Insights into Australian Aboriginal Language, Kinship and Culture'. The project aims to reunite the collections of Alfred Howitt and Lorimer Fison and the many cultural informants they relied upon to amass this very significant archive, in a website. It is an important cultural archive for many Aboriginal people in Victoria, New South Wales, South Australia and Queensland. The project will be finalised at the end of 2020.

Highlights

  • The digitisation of over 5000 South-eastern Australian photographs and 8,800 pages of documents relating to the Southeast, creating a significant access resource for staff, communities and researchers.
  • Discovering more information about the photographs and objects we care for, and which possible community they may be important too.
  • Continuing to work with and for the collections.
  • My colleagues and our communities.

Current activities

  • Ongoing preparation of collection records for Collections Online.
  • Ongoing coordination, direction and supervision of the Legacy Registration Project of Ethnohistory Collections.
  • Registration and cataloguing of the Pacific Ethnohistory Collections
  • Collection documentation and enhancement projects related to current departmental projects.
  • Research into the development of A.W. Howitt’s archive and further documenting the contribution of the Cultural informants in the Museum’s records.

Qualifications

Bachelor of Arts (Hons) Archaeology, La Trobe University

Links

Projects and events

ARC Linkage Project; Howitt and Fison’s Anthropology: Using New Methods to Reveal Hidden Riches.

Publications

1989 Guide to Victorian aboriginal collections in the Museum of Victoria / compiled by Gaye Sculthorpe with the assistance of Michelle La Combe and Mira Lakic

1992 Domestic Technology in Women's work: Aboriginal women's artefacts in the Museum of Victoria /​Aboriginal Studies Department, Museum of Victoria.

1992 Dress and Ornamentation in Women's work: Aboriginal women's artefacts in the Museum of Victoria /​Aboriginal Studies Department, Museum of Victoria.

1994 Through their eyes : an historical record of Aboriginal people of Victoria as documented by the officials of the Port Phillip protectorate, 1839-1841 / compiled and edited by Mira Lakic and Rosemary Wrench

2005 The Distant View The photographs of Baldwin Spencer /​edited by Philip Batty, Lindy Allen and John Morton.

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