British Academy Postdoctoral Fellowship at the Pitt Rivers Museum

January 2007 - December 2009

Dr Mandy Sadan has been awarded a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellowship at the Pitt Rivers Museum for her project ‘Economies of Ethnicity: Material, Visual and Oral Cultures and the Formation of Ethnic Identities in the Burmese Colonial and Postcolonial State’.

ThagyaFor the duration of her £211,116 award, Dr Sadan will be working on the Museum’s Burmese artefact and photograph collections and will be writing a monograph on historical aspects of ethnic identity formation in Burma, as well as developing a number of small research projects relating to these collections with local community groups in Southeast Asia and with other museums and archives in the UK. Dr Sadan has been working closely with the Museum’s Asia collections for a number of years. Most recently, from 2004-2006 she was Project Manager and Research Officer on the AHRC funded project ‘Tibet Visual History 1920-50’, based in the Museum’s Photograph and Manuscript Collections.

The Museum’s Burma collections constitute approximately 2000 artefacts and 1000 photographs. Limited access to Burma since independence in 1948 has meant that they have been little researched, but Dr Sadan’s long-term involvement with a number of community organisations in Burma, as well as with diaspora communities in China, Thailand and India, provides an opportunity for developing new insights and forming new relationships with source communities from the region. The Museum’s photograph and artefact collections are particularly rich historically in relation to the Burma-China border area, enabling research to be conducted on the historical relationships between identities such as ‘Kachin’ and ‘Shan’ and the impact of the Burmese and Chinese state on these ‘minority’ identities as expressed through material and visual culture.

Other parts of the collections, such as artefacts from Nung communities in Northern Burma, relate directly to ongoing research Dr Sadan has been developing since 1996 with local Nung communities in northern Kachin State and to related collections in other institutions, notably Brighton Museum. Dr Sadan is particularly interested in exploring situations where complex multi-group relationships impacted upon the production of material and visual culture in local areas and how identities were articulated, negotiated and contested through the production, consumption and circulation of these objects historically, thus also illuminating the changing ethnographic meanings of museum collections over time. Her work will also explore the relationships of the Museum’s Burmese collections with other Burmese colonial collections in the UK, evidence of change in socio-linguistics and ritual performance, and an extensive survey of historical documentary evidence in English and local languages.

British Academy Postdoctoral Fellowships are highly competitive. In the 2006 competition only 32 were awarded (from 593 applicants). They are intended to support recently postdoctoral scholars by providing them with an opportunity to develop an extended piece of research of publishable quality and gain teaching experience.