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Personal profile

Biography

Chris was born in South Africa, but has lived in the UK since his family moved in the mid-1980s. He studied Archaeology & Anthropology at Oxford, where he completed a dissertation on Iron in Zimbabwe. He went on to an M.Phil in Material Anthropology & Museum Ethnography at the Pitt Rivers Museum, writing his thesis on Ostrich Egghell Beads in the Kalahari.

Following periods as a researcher on the Relational Museum Project and studying museum collections from Arnhem Land at the ANU in Australia, he was appointed Curator of Human History at Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery, where he took responsibility for the Vibes project, exploring musical links between West Africa, the West Indies and the West Midlands.

In 2006, he returned to the Pitt Rivers Museum to work on the Other Within Project, exploring questions of Englishness, at the same time as undertaking a part-time PhD at the University of Birmingham on the Museum of the London Missionary Society (active in southern Africa from 1799). Between 2009 and 2013 he worked as an Associate Lecturer at the Open University, teaching courses on Understanding Global Heritage and Material Culture.

Following completion of his PhD in 2012, Chris was awarded an AHRC networking grant Who Cares? The material heritage of British missions in Africa and the Pacific, and its future, together with Karen Jacobs. He was subsequently appointed Senior Curator at the Museum of Archaeology & Anthropology in Cambridge and worked on a number of exhibitions, the museum's accreditation submission, as well as generating a purpose-built museum database with online web access to the collections.

In September 2018 Chris joined the Sainsbury Research Unit at the University of East Anglia. From 2018 – 2021, he was a Co-Investigator on a major AHRC grant Museum Affordances, led by Paul Basu at SOAS. This focussed on the collections made by Northcote Thomas, first government anthropologist in Nigeria, and their significance and potential today. The project culminated in the [Re:]Entanglements exhibition at the Museum of Archaeology & Anthropology, Cambridge in 2021-22.

Key Research Interests and Expertise

Having undertaken fieldwork in southern Africa, northern Australia and Jamaica, his work is situated at the intersection of a number of different disciplinary and scholarly traditions.

Chris is particularly interested in the history of museums and collections, with a particular focus on missionary and anthropological collections and the ways these have informed the production of images.  In 2022 these interests came together in Argonauts of the Eastern Atlantic - An Artefactual History of the London Missionary Society.

Between July to December 2017, Chris held a South African National Research Foundation fellowship for UK researchers at the University of Cape Town’s Archive and Public Culture Research Initiative. The main purpose of this was to develop a long-term collaborative research project: Re-collecting the Missionary Road. 

Working with students and colleagues in South Africa and the UK, this seeks to explore the contemporary significance of Britain’s long term missionary engagements in southern Africa, bringing collections in British museums into conversation with the places from which they originally came, and the descendants of those from whom they were collected.

In 2020, Chris was awarded a British Museum Endangered Material Knowledge Project grant to work with colleagues on a project entitled: Making Things from Animals: Leather Technologies of the Kalahari.

Chris is the co-host of African Object Lessons, a podcast developed with PhD student Benjamina Efua Dadzie to host conversation with scholars, curators, artists and activist relating to African Objects in, about and beyond the museum.

Academic Background

B.A. Archaeology & Anthropology, University of Oxford (2000)

MPhil Material Anthropology & Museum Ethnnography, University of Oxford (2002)

PhD University of Birmingham (2012)

Career

Prior to coming to the SRU, Chris worked at at the Museum of Archaeology & Anthropology, Cambridge (2012-2018), and before that at the Open University (2009-2013), the Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford (2002 & 2006-9), and Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery (2004-2006).

External positions

Associate Researchers, Cape Town University

1 Jul 2017 → …