Dr Alison Brown

Dr Alison Brown The University of Aberdeen School of Social Science Lecturer work +44 (0)1224 274355


Personal Details

Telephone: +44 (0)1224 274355



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Material Histories: Scots and Aboriginal People in the Canadian Fur Trade (2005-2007)

This AHRC funded project was developed by the Department of Anthropology, University of Aberdeen, and included an exhibition at Marischal Museum in 2007.


Kaahsinnooniksi Ao'toksisawooyawa/Our Ancestors Have Come to Visit. Reconnections with historic Blackfoot shirts (2009-2012)

This AHRC funded project is a collaboration between the Department of Anthropology, University of Aberdeen, the Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford, and the Blackfoot Nations of Siksika, Piikani, Kainai and Blackfeet.


Northern Colonialism: Historical Conntections, Contemporary Lives

This programme is funded by the University of Aberdeen's The North Research theme.


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Alison Brown joined the Department of Anthropology as an RCUK Academic Fellow in 2005, and has been a Lecturer since 2010. She studied history as an undergraduate at Aberdeen University, where she first became interested in museum anthropology. She has a postgraduate diploma in Museum Studies from Leicester University, an M.Phil. in Social Anthropology from Cambridge University and a D.Phil. in Social Anthropology from Oxford University. Since 1998, she has carried out fieldwork on the Canadian Prairies, with Blackfoot, Plains Cree and Plains Ojibwe communities on projects concerning representation, access and the revival of cultural histories using museum collections as a focus. More recently she has worked on fur trade material culture in Scottish museums and family homes as part of the Material Histories project developed by the Department of Anthropology.  In addition to creating a project website http://www.abdn.ac.uk/materialhistories, the project team curated an exhibition based on their research which was held at Marischal Museum in 2008. 

Brown has held curatorial and research positions in a number of UK museums, including the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology at the University of Cambridge, the Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford University, and Glasgow Museums. Between 2002 and 2008 she was on the Committee of the Museum Ethnographers Group http://www.museumethnographersgroup.org.uk. She was the Commissioning Editor for exhibition reviews for the Journal of Museum Ethnography from 2004-08.


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Research Interests

Alison Brown's research addresses the ways in which artefacts, archival documents and images, can be used to think about colonialism and its legacies. Her work explores cross-cultural readings of heritage materials, and seeks to develop culturally appropriate ways of researching, curating, archiving, accessing, and otherwise using museum and archival collections. Most of her fieldwork and museum-­based research has taken place in Western Canada and Northern Montana with the Blackfoot nations of Siksika, Piikani, Kainai and the Blackfeet. She has also undertaken fieldwork in Subarctic Canada and Northern Scotland in connection with histories of Scots and Indigenous peoples in the fur trade.

She is currently leading a Leverhulme Trust International Research Network: Blackfoot Collections in UK Museums: Reviving Relationships Through Artefacts. This network brings together colleagues from the four Blackfoot nations with curatorial staff of the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, University of Cambridge, and the Royal Albert Memorial Museum, Exeter, to generate and exchange knowledge about under-researched Blackfoot artefacts in the UK. The network will enable exploratory discussions about their future care and will develop a model for further culturally-engaged research.

Brown is also in the process of developing a new research project with Dr. Tatiana Argounova-Low. 'Narrative Objects: The Sakha Summer Festival and Cultural Revitalization', involves a partnership with the University of Aberdeen, the British Museum, and the National Museum of the Fine Arts of the Sakha Republic (Yakutiia). Using a nineteenth century carved mammoth ivory model of ysyakh (the Sakha Summer Festival) as a focus, the project team will investigate the ways in which historic artefacts are tools for contemplating the past, remembering collective practices of ethnic identity, and for contributing to cultural revitalization processes, particularly in areas that have experienced political and ceremonial suppression.

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Current Research

Blackfoot Collections in UK Museums: Reviving Relationships Through Artefacts

Indigenous people continue to experience the effects of historical processes of colonialism, including loss of land, forced assimilation and subjugation of religious practices. The collection of artefacts was linked to these processes, but today heritage items are the focus of cultural revitalization efforts. This innovative network brings together Blackfoot people from Canada and the US with UK museums in order to generate and exchange knowledge about Blackfoot artefacts. As few Blackfoot people have had the opportunity to research these historic collections, the network will enable exploratory discussions about their future care and will develop a model for further culturally-engaged research.

Northern Colonialism: Historical Connections, Contemporary Lives

This programme is co-directed by Dr. Alison Brown and Dr. Nancy Wachowich and builds upon existing expertise in Anthropology, Archaeology and History, with support from the Library, Special Collections and Museums, to foster path-breaking research on the processes and impact of colonialism in the Circumpolar North.The programme it is structured around three themes:

By drawing on archival, museum and other material culture sources, and undertaking ethnographic and archaeological fieldwork, affiliated researchers are considering the intersection of colonialism and contemporary social issues in order to generate impacts within and beyond the academy.

Material Histories: Social Relationships between Scots and Aboriginal Peoples in the Canadian Fur Trade, c1870-1930

This project, funded by the AHRC, uses collections in Scottish museums to explore the inter-connected family relationships of Scots fur-traders and Aboriginal peoples in Canada. Beadwork bags, painted coats and other colourful items are the focus for archival research and oral history interviews in Scotland and Canada with descendents of fur-trader families. The research aims to show how artefacts from the past can be used to evoke knowledge and social memories of diaspora relationships, and how the stories told around them can create forms of history that extend beyond those in the written record so as to generate powerful resonances in the present.

'These shirts are our curriculum': artifacts, Blackfoot people and the retrieval of cultural knowledge

This AHRC-funded project brings together UK-based researchers with Blackfoot people in Alberta, Canada, and Montana, USA, to explore the cultural history and contemporary meanings of 5 Blackfoot men's shirts held in the collections of the Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford. Collected in 1841, the hide shirts are decorated with porcupine quillwork and beadwork; three, with human- and horse-hair fringes along the sleeves, are ritual garments. There are just two shirts of this age in Canadian museums, and Blackfoot people have had little access to them. However, some cultural knowledge relating to them has been retained, and elders wish to revive traditional practices associated with them. Blackfoot leaders have spoken of the shirts as important for youth and hope that learning about them will strengthen cultural identity. The project will make the shirts available to Blackfoot people and the wider public for the first time, and explore how historic artefacts can be used by indigenous communities to revive, share and transmit cultural knowledge, and how they serve to anchor social memory and in the construction of identity. Through the exhibition of these shirts at Glenbow and Galt Museums in Alberta, and through handling workshops for Blackfoot people, we hope to show how close examination of the shirts can allow for the retrieval, consolidation, and transmission of cultural knowledge embodied in such artefacts. In turn, we hope that the project will inform future museum practice.

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Research Grants

2013          Leverhulme Trust (£50,731). Blackfoot Collections in UK Museums: Reviving Relations through Artefacts.

2013          Foundation for Canadian Studies in the UK (£615). Publication grant.

2013         Pasold Foundation (£600). Research Activity Grant.

2012          Carnegie Research Grant for the Universities of Scotland (£1700).  Narrative Objects: The Siberian Summer Festival and Sakha Cultural Revitalization

2009          AHRC Research Grant (£183,431). Co-Investigator for “These shirts are our curriculum”: artifacts, Blackfoot people and the retrieval of cultural knowledge. PI: Dr. Laura Peers, Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford.

2009          Royal Society of Edinburgh Workshop Grant (£9000). To develop international workshop on repatriation and access to museum collections.

2007          British Academy Overseas Conference Grant (£400)

2004          British Academy Overseas Conference Grant (£598)

2001          AHRB Research Grant (£73,339).  Co-authored application for Photo-elicitation among the Kainai Nation: a cross cultural re-engagement with history. PI: Dr. Laura Peers, Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford.

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External Responsibilities

External Assessor, MA in the Arts of Africa, Oceania and the Americas, Sainsbury Research Unit, University of East Anglia, 2008-2012

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Contributions to Journals


Chapters in Books, Reports and Conference Proceedings


Contributions to Conferences


Books and Reports


Contributions to Specialist Publications


Other Contributions

Non-textual Forms

Web Publications and Websites


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