Ethnohistory Collection

The Ethnohistory Collection consists of a diverse range of paper and audiovisual subcollections spanning 150 years.

Culturally and historically significant, these holdings are of national and international value, representing the cultural histories of a great number of indigenous groups.

The manuscript collection largely consists of material created by anthropologists, missionaries, settlers and collectors such as Howitt, Spencer, Bulmer, H.R. Balfour, A.S. Kenyon, G.A. Robinson and Johns.

Items include maps, newspapers, letters, notebooks, diaries, journals, notes, scrapbooks, sketchbooks, questionnaires and other miscellaneous documents and paper records. Content generally relates to Indigenous groups in Australia, along with some overseas groups such as the Mi’kmaq of the eastern coast of North America.

The sound collection, although small, is extremely significant due to its content. Formats include wax cylinders, reel-to-reel tape, cassettes and CDs. The wax cylinders are among the earliest audio recordings of Aboriginal people and, in the case of Spencer, are clearly associated with his film collection. The Howitt wax cylinders are valuable as they capture the voices and songs of Victorian Aboriginal people from around 1900.

Like the sound collection, the film and video collection is not large but still significant. It includes Spencer’s entire footage of his 1901 and 1912 expeditions, Seeger’s documentation of time spent in Aboriginal communities, Harry Balfour’s 1933 film of the Worora people of north-western Australia, 1926 footage of New Guinea by W.D. Jackson and a number of contemporary documentaries produced by Museum Victoria.

The photographic collection consists of some 30 000 images reproduced in a variety of formats. It  includes material from Victoria, northern and central Australia and the Pacific, providing an extensive and important resource for Aboriginal communities, researchers and the general public.

Two excellent Pacific photographic collections dating from the 1920s also present over 2000 images of life in Papua New Guinea and island Melanesia.