Ethnology research

Researcher looking at wooden statue


The research carried out in the ethnology department is as wide-ranging as the collections themselves. Our work spans historical collection research to contemporary collecting in the field.

Building on the strengths of the department our research currently focuses on several geographical areas including material culture studies in the Caribbean, collection and collector histories in West Africa and Tibet and cataloguing important Maori collections. Items from our collections can be found on the University of Cambridge and University College London websites.

Our work

The department's curatorial work focuses on interpretation, display (often in collaboration with colleagues from parts of the world represented in the collections) and important primary research involving the documentation of collections. We are known for our African, Asian, American and Oceanic collections and we have curators whose research interests fall within these broad geographical areas.

You can visit our staff profiles to see our specific areas of interest and our research and publications are listed below.

Highlights from our ethnology collections are on display in the World Cultures gallery, which opened in 2005. We are now planning a programme of improvements to refresh the gallery, which will give us the opportunity to display new works collected during our contemporary collecting programmes and to emphasize the historical collections research that has been undertaken since the gallery opened.

Research projects


  • “Knowing Tibet in the borderlands: the knowledge making networks of Himalayan hill-stations.” In Journal of Global History, forthcoming 2016. E. Martin.• “‘the Barmiak Lama came to explain the meaning of those Tibetan curios which were concerned with religion’. Or how a colonial officer’s lessons in Tibetan materialised.” In Anthropos, forthcoming 2016. E. Martin.
  • “Gift, Greeting or Gesture: The khatag and the negotiating of its meaning on the Anglo-Tibetan borderlands.” In Himalaya, forthcoming 2015. E. Martin.
  • ‘A Toxic Vision’, in Nortse: Paper Dreams. 2015, Hong Kong: Rossi&Rossi, pp. 2-11. (exhibition catalogue essay). E. Martin.
  • “Fit for a King? The Significance of a Gift Exchange between the 13th Dalai Lama and King George V.” In Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, 2015, Vol. 25, No 01, pp.71-98. E. Martin.
  • ‘Sidkyong Tulku and the making of Sikkim for the 1911 Delhi Durbar.’ In Bulletin of Tibetology, 2012, Vol 48, No 1, pp.7-32. E. Martin.
  • ‘Charles Bell’s collections of ‘curios’: acquisitions and encounters during a Himalayan Journey’, in Narrating objects, collecting stories: Essays in honour of professor Susan M. Pearce, Dudley, Sandra et al (ed), 2012, Oxon: New York: Routledge, pp.167-183. E. Martin.
  • ‘A Feminine Touch: Elaine Tankard and the creation of National Museums Liverpool’s Tibet collection’ Journal of Museum Ethnography, 2010, No 23, pp. 88-114. Martin, E.
  • 'Developing and defining a 21st century art collection in an international context' in craft + design enquiry, Volume 1, 2009 Migratory Practices, Craft Australia Research Centre. Martin, E.
  • 'Liverpool's Hidden Collections Revealed', Orientations, September, pp. 77-83, 2005. Martin, E.
  • 'The Tibetan Collection at World Museum Liverpool', Orientations, September, pp. 90-96, 2005. Martin, E.
  • ‘Reinterpreting the African Collections of the World Museum Liverpool’ Critical Interventions, 2008, 1 (2): 31-41. Kingdon. Z.
  • ‘Africa and Liverpool’s World Museum 1860-1916: Collectors’ Stories.’ In Quest for Treasures: Searching for Lost Empires (bilingual English/Mandarin catalogue for an exhibition held in Taiwan January to August 2013. 2013, Chapter 2. Pp. 17-48. Kingdon. Z.
  • ‘The Queen as an Aku Woman? Reassessing ‘Yoruba’ Queen Victoria Portrait Figures’. African Arts, Autumn 2014, Vol. 47, No.3, pp.8-23. Kingdon. Z.
  • 'Collecting Empire? African objects, West African trade, and a Liverpool museum.' Zachary Kingdon with Dmitri van den Bersselaar. In Sheryllynne Haggerty, Anthony Webster and Nicholas J. White (eds.), 'The Empire in One City?: Liverpool's inconvenient imperial past', Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2008: 100-122. Kingdon, Z.
  • 'Creative Frontiers: Sculptural Innovation and Social Transformation in Eastern Africa.' In H. Arero and Z. Kingdon (eds.)' East African Contours: Reviewing Creativity and Visual Culture', Contributions in Critical Museology and Material Culture Series (London: Horniman Museum, 2005). Kingdon, Z.
  • 'A Host of Devils: the History and Context of the Making of Makonde Spirit Sculpture'. (Routledge, 2002). Kingdon, Z.
  • ''Treasures... of black wood, brilliantly polished': Five examples of Guaiacum sculpture from the 10th-16th century Caribbean Antiquity', 85(329): 942-959, 2011. Joanna Ostapkowicz, Alex Wiedenhoeft, Christopher Bronk Ramsey, Erika Ribechini, Samuel Wilson, Fiona Brock, Tom Higham.
  • 'This relic of antiquity': 5th-15th century wood carvings from the southern Lesser Antilles.' In Communities in Contact: Essays in Archaeology, Ethnohistory and Ethnography of the Amerindian circum-Caribbean', edited by Corinne L. Hofman and Anne van Duijvenbode, pp. 137-170, Sidestone Press, Leiden, 2011, Joanna Ostapkowicz, Christopher Bronk Ramsey, Alex Wiedenhoeft, Fiona Brock, Tom Higham, Samuel Wilson.
  • 'Nuu-chah-nulth and Makah Black-brimmed Hats: Chronology and Style, American Indian Art Magazine', Vol 35(3):52-67; 84-85, 2010. Ostapkowicz, J.