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The Endangered Material Knowledge Programme is open for applications

Posted: 3 December 2018

The Endangered Material Knowledge Programme, our new regranting programme at the British Museum, launched on 3 December 2018. With societies around the world changing at an unprecedented rate, specialist local knowledge and skills, which were once vital for communities to thrive, are now at risk of disappearing. The programme will offer grants to researches to work with communities and document these disappearing practices, focusing on material culture – how things are made and how they are used. The records will be made freely available online.

Lisbet Rausing, Arcadia co-founder, said at the launch event: “We can stabilize memories. We can empower communities to remember their past and be inspired by it, to create a more sensible, less rapacious, and less soulless future. Communities can tell their own stories and hear the stories of others. They can, quite literally, show the global community how to do things… Artisans will teach us, and their skills, tastes and thought processes will be recorded with the same level of dignity and profound seriousness that we give to our own Western book-learning”.

For applications, please see here. The deadline for applications is 1 March 2019.

The British Museum’s press release:

The British Museum embarks on a major programme to help preserve Endangered Material Knowledge

The British Museum has announced a major programme to help preserve the knowledge of endangered practices of traditional communities for future generations. Generously funded by Arcadia – a charitable fund of Lisbet Rausing and Peter Baldwin – the Museum will deliver a three-year programme of grants that will be awarded for documentation work to preserve critically endangered material practices around the world Societies around the globe are changing at an unprecedented rate, and specialist, locally-informed knowledge is in danger of being lost – knowledge that has helped communities thrive in unique environmental, social and cultural contexts. This includes knowledge about appropriate architecture for local climates, as well as objects used in daily life in specific places.

The scope of this work will be potentially huge – material practices can range from special events, to the production and use of everyday household items like cooking implements, agricultural tools or clothes, and the houses and other buildings that people occupy. The programme will document what we might term the ‘made world’ and how people use, build, make and repair the natural resources around them to create their distinctive societies, homes and spaces. Documentation will be made freely available through an Open Access digital repository based at the British Museum. Through this intervention, this fast-disappearing knowledge will be preserved for those communities and for all humanity.

The Endangered Material Knowledge Programme (EMKP) is the first programme of its kind relating to objects, and will offer grants to researchers globally to undertake detailed fieldwork to record disappearing or endangered practices. Recipients of grants will be working collaboratively with local communities for significant periods, observing and recording the different material practices in detail. This may include a range of different media such as films, photographs, interviews, drawings, maps and illustrations. Once this material has been collated, it will be submitted to EMKP so that it can be uploaded onto an open access digital database at the British Museum. This database will provide a storehouse for this endangered knowledge, as well as making it available to a much larger audience, including academics, the interested public, and the communities themselves.

The factors behind the changes threatening traditional knowledge are varied, from population growth, climate change and urbanisation to environmental changes and political conflict. The long-term effects of globalization are changing how small-scale communities live – from the introduction of mass-produced goods and commodities that erode local crafts and architecture to the depletion of rural areas as people flock to the city. Long and short term environmental change can also alter everyday lives as traditional resources become unavailable, or entire regions are destroyed by developments such as deforestation or dam building. Political conflict is even more unsettling and catastrophic as societies are decimated or forced to relocate because of external threats to their lives and livelihoods.

Hartwig Fischer, Director of the British Museum, says: “I am hugely grateful to Arcadia for funding the EMKP and their continued support of the British Museum and continuing their long and productive history of collaborating with the British Museum. All the recipients of grants from the British Museum will be working in tandem with communities across the globe. By putting the records online, these communities will be able to access and preserve their cultural heritage for future generations, and I am very proud the British Museum can play a part in this.”

Lisbet Rausing, Co-founder of Arcadia says: “We are proud to support this grassroots effort to record the disappearing traditional knowledge and crafts of communities around the globe. The programme will celebrate these traditional skills, documenting them for future generations. We hope that the recordings, which will be freely available through the British Museum’s website, will bring pride to the communities and inspiration to the world.”

The Department of Africa, Oceania and the Americas at the British Museum
The British Museum houses one of the finest collections of art and artefacts in existence, representing the world’s cultural heritage for the benefit of the public. Founded in 1753, it encourages people to explore their culture and history, and how it relates to wider world histories. The collection of the Department of Africa, Oceania and the Americas includes around 350,000 objects, representing the cultures of the indigenous peoples across four continents.
Arcadia website (www.arcadiafund.org.uk)

Arcadia is a charitable fund of Lisbet Rausing and Peter Baldwin. It supports charities and scholarly institutions that preserve cultural heritage and the environment. Arcadia also supports projects that promote open access and all of its awards are granted on the condition that any materials produced are made available for free online. Since 2002, Arcadia has awarded more than $500 million to projects around the world

Further information
Contact the Press Office:
020 7323 8583/8394
communications@britishmuseum.org