University of Rochester

Rochester Review
July–August 2011
Vol. 73, No. 6

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‘Social Lives’ of Objects
artifact_side (Photo: Adam Fenster (photographs); Steve Boerner for Rochester Review (map))

The oldest collection of Pacific Islands artifacts in North America assembled by one person, the P. G. T. Black Collection had gone largely undocumented among anthropologists until Rochester professor Robert Foster undertook a project to share the objects with a wider audience. Foster is studying the more than 6,000 objects at the Buffalo Museum of Science to learn what they reveal about early encounters between Pacific Islanders and European traders, missionaries, officials, and tourists. “They’re not inert,” Foster says of the objects. “They have what I call ‘social lives’—and new meanings continually get attached to them.” (Numbers in parentheses represent the museum’s catalog IDs.)