Sunday, 10 September 2017

Colonialism, coloniality and opportunities for necessary engagement, critique and reflection

A comment on the current debate around the Humboldt Forum in Berlin

Martin Porr

After a long period of relative obliviousness, an extensive public debate has recently erupted in Germany about the significance and role of ethnographic museums and, more broadly, the colonial dimensions of Germany’s past and present. For decades, public debate about historical responsibilities, effects and trajectories were dominated by the Holocaust, the atrocities under the Nazi regime and during the Second World War. The centenary of the beginning of the First World War in 2014 has contributed towards a shift away from this focus and other events in Germany’s past are now receiving more attention. This shift now includes a renewed interest in Germany’s colonial past (see e.g. Hamburgs postkoloniales Erbe). The Deutsches Historisches Museum in Berlin ran, for example, a high-profile exhibition on the topic from October 2016 to May 2017.

In this way, public debate in Germany is now linking up with developments that have been a focus in other countries for some time, particularly within the academic fields of social anthropology, cultural studies and archaeology.

Monday, 16 January 2017

Myths that refuse to die. Kimberley rock art and the interpretation of Australian Indigenous heritage

Martin Porr

A review essay on Nicholas Hasluck, The Bradshaw Case. Melbourne, ARCADIA/Australian Scholarly Publishing Pty Ltd, 213 pages, ISBN: 978-1-925333-48-0. This essay is also available to download as a pdf or via here.


The publication of Hasluck’s The Bradshaw Case is extremely frustrating. It contributes nothing to an understanding of the multidimensional past and present of Kimberley heritage, which continues to fascinate so many people in Australia and beyond. To the contrary, it reiterates viewpoints and convictions that had been put forward and refuted decades ago. As a historical novel, it is largely a failure. The author seemingly had no intention to accurately reflect and comment on the complex history he uses as inspiration for his book. Rather he seems to aspire to be a player himself, by creating an elaborate statement of admiration for Grahame Walsh, his work and convictions. Yet the selective combination of fictitious and factual elements make this book a politically problematic and outdated statement on this subject. This book will only be appreciated by those who prefer a simplistic and sanitised version of Australia’s past, and who refuse to accept the difficult historical challenge of the process of reconciliation with Indigenous Australians.

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Viewpoint post on world's oldest ground-edge ax for SAPIENS

A quick update to direct everyone's attention to the recently published op-ed Jacq Matthews and Martin Porr authored for SAPIENS. This piece is our attempt to put the recent news of the world's oldest ground-edge ax, published by Peter Hiscock and colleagues in Australian Archaeology in May, into a critical but accessible context and discuss how this find challenges some problematic assumptions in human origins research. You can read it here, A Ground-Edge Ax Rewriting Australia's Early Human History!

Our thanks to the hard-working editors at SAPIENS for their assistance and guidance on bringing this piece to fruition!

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Many voices and perspectives, all the way down

Some thoughts on how to start taking ‘culture’ seriously in human evolution

Martin Porr

In recent years, the origin of modern humans has been increasingly framed in terms of the origins of the uniquely human cognitive capacity for symbolic behaviour. This behaviour is seen as the basis for the creation of cultural meanings that are shared and negotiated through a range of verbal and non-verbal forms of communication. This forms the foundation for the incredible variability and flexibility of modern human cultural practices and artefacts in a wide sense of the term. Some of the most significant questions in archaeology are related to these issues. What are the mechanisms that influence these cultural forms? How do they originate? Why do some persist and some disappear?

Archaeologists working on Palawan Island, Philippines. Image: Martin Porr

Monday, 25 January 2016

Wrapping-up the Wenner-Gren 2015 Workshop

As further proof that we didn’t keep our guests
locked away in the university the entire time,
  here’s Robin Dennell setting foot in the Indian
Ocean for the first time! (Photo by Martin Porr)
A quick update to note that we have now completed our reporting to the Wenner-Gren Foundation on the workshop we held in Perth in October last year. The finalised abstract for the event can be found below and we’ve also now updated the workshop pages with photos from the event. There are several publication projects in the works and plans afoot to continue and broaden these conversations, and updates on this continuing work will be posted in due course. Our sincerest thanks to all the workshop participants, who made this such a stimulating event!

A few more important acknowledgements: foremost we would like to thank the Wenner-Gren Foundation for the Workshop Grant that made this possible. We are also grateful for extra support provided by a Special Grant from the UWA Deputy Vice Chancellor of Research’s Office and also the UWA Institute of Advanced Studies who sponsored our public keynote lecture. We’d also like to acknowledge the support of the School of Social Science, particularly our wonderful administrative team, who provided so much behind-the-scenes support that help this event to run smoothly. And finally, we'd like to say a big thank you to Jasmine Waters, Ariane Maggio and Mitch Cleghorn who all volunteered their time to help us run this event and make sure our guests had an enjoyable time in Perth.

All the best,
Martin and Jacq

Monday, 18 January 2016

Storify of the Workshop and Public Lectures

Below is the storify of compiled tweets from the 'Decolonisation and Human Origins' Workshop and the five related public lectures held at the University of Western Australia in late October 2015. Our thanks to everyone who contributed to publicizing these events!

Sunday, 27 September 2015

Summary of Public Events at UWA October 2015

The events listed below are free and open to the public—only the IAS Public Lecture requires an RSVP. All events will be held at the Crawley Campus of the University of Western Australia, follow the links provided for the relevant campus map locations. Please click on the flyers to view the full versions.

Men amongst the Morlocks. Human origins and anthropology in late Victorian 'scientific romances' and the public's perception of human evolution

Public Lecture by Dr John McNabb (University of Southampton) 

Date: Monday 26th October
Time: 6pm
Venue: Social Science Lecture Room 1