The Pacific Collections at Museums Victoria

A brief introduction and aspirations for the future

Dr Elizabeth Bonshek

Dr Bonshek’s research has been influenced by what Nicholas Thomas has referred to as the “museum as method”: the museum and its collections provide the means through which to contemplate the engagements and interactions between people in specific times and in specific places.

As a recent arrival to Museum Victoria Dr Bonshek is exploring the application of this method to the Pacific collections here in Melbourne. The Museum’s Pacific Collections comprise some 20,000 objects and 8,000 images the earliest items being acquired in the 1860s. The collection forms an important part of the cultural heritage of the Pacific, much of which is held in Australia, as well as in Europe and the United States.

In this talk Dr Bonshek will briefly outline the composition of the Pacific collection and by drawing upon her research on museum collections from Melanesia, she will discuss the special role museum collections can have in researching the past and their importance for community members in contemplating the future.


Dr Elizabeth Bonshek has worked in museums and with museum collections from the Pacific region since 1987. Her doctoral research was undertaken in Collingwood Bay, Papua New Guinea and she was awarded her degree by the Australian National University.

Her research focuses on the material culture of the Pacific region, especially Melanesia, and upon both historical and contemporary collecting and indigenous responses to museum collections. She has also worked in Solomon Islands. Her publications include editorial contribution and authorship of Melanesia. Art and encounter (2013) a major book devoted to the Melanesian collections at the British Museum. Recent research has explored memory and silence in an interpretation of contemporary manufacture of museum collections (2016 “Making Museum Objects. A Silent Performance of Connection and Loss in Solomon Islands” in Beyond Memory. Silence and the Aesthetics of Remembrance (eds) Alexandre Dessingué and Jay Winter, Routledge).

This lecture was part of the History, Culture & Collections 2016 lecture series held at Melbourne Museum.

Check out our latest series, Museum Lectures.

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