|dc.description.abstract||This thesis is about four historical collections of Haida argillite carvings now at the
National Museum of Scotland, the University of Aberdeen Museums and the Perth
Museum and Art Gallery. Since the early nineteenth century Haida artists have carved
argillite, a carbonaceous shale, into objects featuring Haida and European-inspired
motifs, for trade or sale to non-Haida others. Scots Colin Robertson, William Mitchell,
James Hector and John Rae acquired argillite as part of broader collections from the
Northwest Coast of Canada made during the middle decades of the nineteenth century.
Each of these men was employed by, or affiliated with the Hudson’s Bay Company.
This thesis questions how the meanings and statuses of these objects, collected and
deposited in Scottish museums between the 1820s and 1860s, have changed over the
nearly two centuries of their existence.
Research at these three museums, and at British and Canadian archives, provided the
material that shed light on the historical circumstances of the approximately 30 objects
constituting these collections. Semi-structured interviews with Haida carvers,
community members and experts, and with museum curators elicited insights into the
ways these objects are made meaningful today.
The thesis examines the collections in four key contexts. First, it explores the ways in
which they have been displayed and interpreted at the three museums, shedding light
on the trajectories by which museums have represented the objects of others.
Secondly, it describes the context in which the argillite carvings were produced,
circulated and collected by sketching the social and political character of the
Northwest Coast as it transformed through the decades of the fur trade to European
colonization. How these objects transformed in status and value according to the
agendas of their collectors is the third context, which reflects the character of
relationships between Indigenous peoples and newcomers. Finally, I resituate these
collections in the context of contemporary Haidas’ perspectives on the value and
meaning of argillite carving(s), and propose that these objects can be understood as
The argillite carvings in these Scottish museum collections are objects of exchange,
produced and circulated in the contact zone of the mid-nineteenth century Northwest
Coast. As such, they are windows into relationships between Indigenous and European
people during this period. Collected as curiosities but remade into objects of science,
biography and art, this study traces their shifting statuses as they have moved through
various regimes of value. This thesis therefore characterizes the exchanges that have
occurred around these objects as ongoing and dynamic.||en