Cultural artefacts as cultural ambassadors: working with Taiwanese indigenous groups and museums to share, preserve and enhance cultural identity

Research by Professor Niki Alsford examines the connections between Taiwan and the United Kingdom in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, using objects and archives that relate to the indigenous communities of Taiwan.

The research involved analysing over 350 diverse Taiwanese artefacts preserved in the British Museum, including items of clothing, baskets, and ear ornaments. These objects were collected over 130 years by more than 15 individuals and organisations. Alsford’s research has brought together all of these artefacts and studied them as a single collection. This has allowed them to gain a collective significance, contributing to the existing knowledge of indigenous lives and cultures in Taiwan. 

Alsford’s research addresses the UN Sustainable Development Goals of Quality Education and Reduced Inequalities. These artefacts have been presented to global audiences as part of a process that has increased political recognition for marginalized indigenous groups and influenced heritage policy and educational programmes. Professor Alsford’s research utilises British collections to contribute to a Taiwan-centric development of identity within Taiwan and has prompted ongoing collaboration between organisations such as the British Museum, the Shung Ye Museum of Formosan Aborigines (SMFA), and the National Museum of Taiwan History (NMTH) in three exhibitions since 2016. Subsequently, the collaboration with museum and curatorial professionals in Taiwan and the UK has resulted in a positive enhancement to cultural heritage preservation. Significantly, the interpretation of these artefacts has changed, highlighting their important in the story they can tell about the British in Taiwan and as evidence of indigenous lives and cultures.

Academic expertise