Salvage Ethnography

Ethnography is a new word to me but in the last week it’s popping up everywhere!  As part of our next assignment we’ve to read The Ethnography Primer

” Ethnography informs design by revealing a deep understanding of people and how they make sense of their world.  Ethnography is a research method based on observing people in their natural environment rather than in a formal research setting.”

Through family links with Australia and because of my love of art, my husband recorded the first in the new series on BBC 2, Hidden Treasures of Australian Art. In the programme Griff Rhys Jones follows the journey of Marine Biologist Alfred Cort Hadden who in 1888 travelled to the Torres Strait islands situated between Australia and Papua New Guinea to study the famous coral reef there.  Whilst there he saw the effects the Christian Missionaries were having on the islands inhabitants, they had travelled to bring the Scriptures to the Islanders and rid them of the carvings, masks and charms which the missionaries claimed were embedded with bad spirits.  Hadden returned to the Torres Straits in his new role of leader of a group of anthropologists.  He travelled the islands collecting, through trade and buying, sacred artefacts which he feared would be lost, documenting through the written word and paintings.  He recorded the Islanders dances on film and using a wax cylinder captured the voices both talking and singing – a brilliant example of ethnography.

Wax cylinder phonograph, Thomas Edison National Historic Park, 1888,

© león reed


The  tools I’ll use to collate my observations won’t be too different to those of Haddon, paper, pens, camera and even possibly the video on my camera.  Where Haddon had to respect the beliefs and way of living of the Islanders so must I also respect the people Im observing – perhaps they’ll be artefacts to collect too – well at least there’ll be my ticket to get into the football match!

University of Cambridge, Distinguished Members, (online), available from: Accessed 28th February 2011

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