Profile of a Cultural Heritage Institution: The Museum of Anthropology

Why the Museum of Anthropology?

Honestly, the MOA never really registered on my radar. However, this converged institution featured heavily in the Colloquium talk on Conservation and Preserving Cultural Significance that I recently attended. And it seems like a very interesting place with important cultural initiatives and mandates.

The Basics

Mission: To inspire understanding of and respect for world arts and cultures.

Vision: “MOA will become one of the world’s principle hubs for exhibition, teaching, and research of international visual, intangible, and performative culture, and critical and collaborative museology. It will provide a transformative environment for visitors to learn about themselves and others and to consider contemporary and historical events and issues from multiple perspectives. It will enhance its international profile while working locally, maintaining and strengthening its focus on First Nations peoples of British Columbia as well as diverse cultural communities. It will embrace interdisciplinarity and champion collaboration. it will provide innovative and imaginative exhibits and programs and encourage full academic and student participation while promoting UBC’s values, commitments, and aspirations.”


  • Inspiration
  • Innovation
  • Inclusiveness
  • Community
  • Stewardship
  • Service

Vancouver’s Museum of Anthropology was founded in 1949 in the basement of the Main Library at the  University of British Columbia (UBC).

  • Today it is Canada’s largest teaching museum.
  • Its collections, exhibitions, and programs are renowned for giving access and insight into the cultures of indigenous peoples around the world.
  • Its Multidiversity Galleries offer public access to almost 10,000 objects from around the world.

The Programming, Virtual and Traditional

  • The MOA has programming for all levels of primary and secondary education, including archaeology programs, and cultural, architectural, and artistic educational programs.
  • Educational websites include “The Spirit of Islam,” the Virtual Museum of Canada’s “Respect to Bill Reid Pole” online exhibit, and a virtual exhibit on Musqueam Weavers.
  • Events such as a culinary tour that combined old-world food and a tour of the ceramics gallery have been presented; upcoming is a lecture on the history of 16th and 17th Andean silver mining.
  • The Presentation Circle is a place where visitors can watch family-friendly videos on museum and exhibit-related topics.

The Collections and Research

  • The MOA contains 38,000 ethnographic objects, 535,000 archaeological objects, many of which originate from the northwest coast of BC.
  • The UBC’s Laboratory of Archaeology oversees the archaeological artifacts
  • The MOA includes a library that holds research material that complements the MOA’s collections. Strengths of the library collections are museology, Northwest Coast material culture, and world ceramics and textiles.
  • The Archives at MOA contain records of the museum, including staff and administrative records, as well as records of direct contextual relevance to the artifact collections at the museum. Prominent records include papers, maps, photographs, and audiocassettes of anthropologist Wilson Duff and the Audrey Hawthorn, the museum’s first curator.
  • RRN (Reciprocal Research Network): “an online research environment that provides access to First Nations items from the Northwest Coast and British Columbia. It allows you to search through items from many institutions across the world, all from the same convenient interface. You can create projects and invite other users to work with you.”

The Impact of Changes in Technology and Informatics

The Obvious

  • Online access to the library catalog
  • Virtual exhibits and online curation
  • Blog connected to the MOA website
  • Twitter, Facebook, and Flickr accounts
  • Online database of objects and relevant information/metadata, searchable by keyword, object name, places, cultures, people associated with the objects, categories, subjects, timeline, and location around the globe (via Google Earth)

The Less Obvious

  • MOA’s video demonstrations in the Presentation Circle add new-ish media into the traditional museum exhibit format. Though this is not uncommon in museums, I imagine the Presentation Circle as more of a video library than a theater (having never been, I can’t say for sure).
  • MOA’s in-house Mobile Web Application allows visitors to look up information about objects on (and off) display. The application uses artifact ID numbers to store contextual information.
  • The RRN, the Reciprocal Research Network, takes advantage of the possibilities and opportunities in online collaboration and partnership, and provides exceptional access to a large number of objects and artifacts in collections across the world, increasing users’ ability to draw new conclusions and to create new research projects.

What hasn’t changed

Library materials are not available for borrowing, but are available for copying. The website says nothing about scanning documents or library materials, but I imagine that is included under the “copying” umbrella, since scanning and and reading on the computer are such common research activities these days. Additionally, the Archives are available by appointment only.

The Summary

Special Characteristics and Focus

The MOA’s unique characteristics then, are its size, its position as part of a university, its role as a teaching museum, and its focus on indigenous and First Peoples’ cultures.

Unique Aspects

MOA is also an example of a converged institution, this time within a university. It contains the museum, a library, and an archives.

Perhaps the most unique aspect of this institution is its partnership with institutions around the world to bring users the Reciprocal Research Network. The RRN benefits from recent changes in informatics and technology that allow worldwide online collaboration, and the capabilities of databases which can store surrogates of objects in the form of digital images and records providing metadata and contextual information about the objects.

The MOA is an institution of significant importance in the curation, presentation, and interpretation of cultural heritage. Some of its significance lies in the priority it places on indigenous cultural narratives, and in its worldwide scope. Its focus on multidiversity and interdisciplinarity reflect the globalization of our cultures. The use of technologies is innovative and collaborative.

Up Next: Historic Scotland! UPDATE:  Having just reviewed the original plan for this project, I realize that Historic Scotland would be out of place as the next profile. Thus, I will next profile The British Library!


Appendix: Reciprocal Research Network Introductory Video


MOA. (2010). About the museum. Retrieved on 5 November 2012 from

MOA. (2010). Archives. Retrieved on 12 November 2012 from

MOA. (2010). The collections. Retrieved on 5 November 2012 from

MOA. (2010). Educational websites. Retrieved on 12 November 2012 from

MOA. (2010). History & organization. Retrieved on 5 November 2012 from

MOA. (2010). The library. Retrieved on 12 November 2012 from

MOA. (2012). MOACAT online collections. Retrieved on 12 November 2012 from

MOA. (2010). K-12 School programs. Retrieved on 12 November 2012 from

MOA. (2010). Our mission. Retrieved on 5 November 2012 from

The Reciprocal Research Network. (2012). Welcome. Retrieved on 12 November 2012 from

The Reciprocal Research Network. (2012). Introductory video. Retrieved on 12 November 2012 from


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s