Natasha Barrett

My PhD research (completed in July 2018) investigates the meanings and uses of commercial colonial-era photographs (1860s-1914) of Māori and their cultural treasures within British museums and Māori contexts.

Natasha BarrettContact & Ethesis



AHRC M3C profile


Dr. Sandra Dudley

Prof. Emeritus Elizabeth Edwards ex. PHRC, De Montfort University

Thesis title

Meshworks of meanings: photographs of Māori and their taonga

Thesis description

The project focuses on commercial colonial-era photographs (1860s-1914) of Māori (the indigenous Polynesian people of NZ) and their taonga/cultural treasures. The research approaches photographs as three-dimensional cultural objects with material, sensory, emotive, social and relational qualities and potential effects. The research peer group is thoroughly interdisciplinary and located within museum studies, anthropology, material culture studies, and photographic historiography. Whilst inspiration for alternative thinking comes from archaeology and archival studies.

The thesis is framed within a postcolonial context, which acknowledges the different frames within which photographs and other museum objects are interpreted. There is a key focus on understanding the various socio-cultural and remediated uses of photographic objects and explores historical and contemporary questions within British museum and Māori contexts, asking:

  • What does the historical adoption of photographs by Māori represent? Does it reflect exchange and assimilation into a Māori framework and if so, how?
  • In what ways were these photographs used by Māori, European settlers, early generation New Zealanders and tourists?
  • How have these photographs been used and consumed historically and contemporaneously in British museums? Do current exhibition uses constitute more progressive Māori representations in a postcolonial museological context?
  • How can Māori perspectives influence the ways in which these photographs are understood and used in museums?
  • How do Māori contemporarily view these colonial-era photographs; as culturally valuable, providing ancestral links and access to traditional knowledge?

Chosen for their collections and varying sizes and institutional types, the three museums forming the thesis' core examples include: the British Museum (London), Pitt Rivers Museum (Oxford) and Russell-Cotes Art Gallery & Museum (Bournemouth).


Originally from London, I lived in Aotearoa/New Zealand for 11 years working in the GLAM sector (galleries, libraries, archives and museums) in Wellington and Auckland from 2003 to 2014.

Academic qualifications

  • Archives & Cultural Memory Masterclass, Prof. Eric Ketelaar (visiting scholar, Univ. of Amsterdam) from Victoria, University of Wellington, NZ (2013).
  • Certificate in Proficiency in Archives: Access, Advocacy and Outreach (A+) , Prof Wendy Duff (visiting scholar, Univ. of Toronto) from Victoria, University of Wellington, NZ (2011).
  • MA in Museum Anthropology (Distinction) from University College London (1999-2000).

Museum ethnology and visual anthropology informed my analysis of recyclia in colonial and postcolonial Africa and the 'West’, as a progressive way of opening up the ‘primitivism’ debate. I utilised the Pitt Rivers Museum’s recycling exhibition and interviews with museum curators and contributing artists to illustrate the postcolonial democratisation of the conceptualisation and exhibition of these recycled objects.

  • BA Dual Hons (1st Class Honours) in Social Anthropology and Visual Arts (practice & theory) from Keele University (1995-1998).

Job experience

Heritage Collections & Content Planner, Auckland Libraries – Auckland Council, NZ, November 2010 – May 2014 (3 years 7 months)

Until mid 2014 I worked at Auckland Libraries in the Heritage & Research department. This role was varied and included: writing collection policies and processes (e.g. collection development and collection management policies, donations procedures), involvement with storage projects, as well as heritage festivals and events (including the WW1 centenary), using social media to increase access and use of the heritage collections (e.g. setting up, writing and coordinating content for the Heritage et AL blog and Auckland Libraries Heritage & Research Historypin account and Auckland Weekly News WW1 Twitter account).

Historic Heritage Advisor (Database & Info), Auckland Regional Council, NZ, May 2007 – November 2010 (3yrs 7 months)

This role involved managing the council’s Cultural Heritage Inventory database (including preparing and overseeing the migration of data from DBTextworks to SQL), GIS data and physical archive. I also dealt with internal and external information requests relating to cultural heritage in the Auckland region and ran database and GIS training sessions for the various customers and key stakeholders (heritage consultants, iwi/Māori tribes etc.) and university students (University of Auckland and Auckland University of Technology).

Pou Rangahau Rautaki Kōiwi/Repatriation Researcher, The National Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, Wellington, NZ, February 2004 – May 2007 (3yrs 4 months)

In this role, I undertook research into the collections of Māori & Moriori kōiwi tangata/human remains from Aotearoa/New Zealand (including the Chatham Islands) held in overseas institutions. This involved online research and national (NZ) and international (UK) research at museums (e.g. Pitt Rivers Museum), institutions (e.g. UCL), archives and libraries (e.g. British Library). Another key part of the role was negotiating and arranging for the physical repatriation of these tūpuna/ancestors back to Aotearoa/New Zealand according to Māori tikanga/protocol and museum guidelines/standards. Importantly, research was also undertaken to provenance these ancestral remains, so that they could be domestically repatriated back to their iwi/ Māori tribe.

Editorial Assistant/Reference Checker (temporary contract), Waitangi Tribunal, Wellington, NZ, August 2003 – December 2003 (5 months)

This role involved reference checking tribunal reports relating to Māori land claims for accuracy, context, consistency and adherence to the style guidelines. I also implemented report changes, proof read chapters, carried out research, created basic historic maps and wrote discreet sections of text for the report writers.

Library Assistant (temporary contract), Alexander Turnbull Library, National Library of New Zealand, Wellington, NZ, April 2003 – June 2003 (3 months)

I worked in several different library departments including oral history, art, photography and carried out a variety of different tasks e.g. preparing photographic orders for customers and archival tasks to ensure the safe storage and retrieval of collection items.

Picture Researcher, The Advertising Archives (Picture Library), London, UK, April 2001 – September 2002 (1yr 5 months)

This role consisted of taking accurate job briefs and providing the varied customer base (commercial, academic etc.) with appropriate images in the required format. As well as carrying out various tasks to ensure that the archive was kept physically ordered and easily accessible online by improving database records to ensure functionality for clients.

Voluntary work

NZ Collection Volunteer, Russell Cotes Art Gallery & Museum, Hampshire, UK, August 2014 to present (ongoing)

This voluntary position involves working with the RCAGM NZ Māori collection at the museum. Tasks iinclude: identifying and checking taonga/treasured Māori objects against the museum records, recording (measuring & photographing), carrying out research and assessing the significance of the taonga.

Archival Volunteer, St Barbe Museum & Art Gallery, Hampshire, UK, July 2014 – September 2014 (3 months)

In this voluntary position I assessed the current system that the museum had in place for digital images, carried out a needs analysis, designed and implemented a new archival management system. These images are used as part of the records entries for objects on Modes (collection management system) and for general research by staff and customers.

Assistant to the Curator of Limoges Enamel, The Wallace Collection, London, UK, June 1999 - July 1999 (3 weeks)

Cleaning maiolica objects and their redisplay. Computer data entry as part of the creation of a catalogue on 16th century limoges enamels.

Member of:

  • Archives & Records Association (ARA)
  • Museums Association (MA)
  • Museum Ethnographers Group (MEG)
  • NZ Studies Network UK & Ireland Te Kāhui Rangahau Kōrero mō Aotearoa.

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