How can exhibitions serve as valuable pedagogical tools for discussing topics such as indigeneity, mestizaje, national modernisation projects, and indigenous-state relations in the 20th century? Are museums contributing to recent discussions on structural racism, gender and race-related inequalities? What challenges in the field are related to the researcher’s gender and/or race? What is the future of photography collections in museums?

In the spring, within the framework of the exhibition ‘A Woman in the Field: Susan Drucker-Brown’s Photographs and Anthropological Fieldnotes (Mexico 1957-1958)‘ and the Easter programming of the CRASSH Multidimensional Dialogues of the Americas network, ‘Diverse Narratives, Inclusive Spaces: Embracing Multivocality, Creativity, and Sustainability in Museums‘, CRASSH sponsored the ‘Rethinking anthropological fieldwork in historical perspective‘ one-day symposium. Intricately planned by co-convenors Jimena Lobo Guerrero Arenas from the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology at the University of Cambridge and Paula López-Caballero from Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, the event was aimed at enriching discussions and broadening audience engagement with critical issues in race, gender, indigeneity, photography, anthropology, archaeological collections, and museums.

The event centred around the exhibition ‘A Woman in the Field: Susan Drucker-Brown’s Photographs and Anthropological Fieldnotes (Mexico 1957-1958)’, curated by Paula López Caballero. This exhibition showcased a selection of photographs and fieldnotes from Drucker-Brown, a Cambridge-based anthropologist whose work in the Mixtec-speaking village of Jamiltepec in the late 1950s provided a rare glimpse into the indigenous and rural life under the currents of mestizaje, modernization, and indigeneity in mid-twentieth-century Mexico. More than just a historical record, the exhibition posed poignant questions about the role of women in fieldwork, the portrayal of everyday ethnographic research, and the fate of such fieldwork outputs in today’s museum and archival practices.

The day unfolded in a sequence of immersive and engaging components. It began with a hands-on student workshop in the morning, where participants were invited to walk through the exhibition, engage deeply with Drucker-Brown’s images, and discuss the powerful narratives behind each photograph. This session not only highlighted the art of visual storytelling but also allowed students to partake. They captured their own photographs related to the exhibition’s themes, later curating a mini-exhibition of their work.

Following the creative endeavours of the morning, the afternoon was dedicated to a roundtable discussion featuring specialists like Dr Jocelyne Dudding, Manager of the Photographic Collections at the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, Cambridge,

Mrs María Fernanda Domínguez-Londoño, Faculty of Modern and Medieval Languages and Linguistics, University of Cambridge, and Dr Javiera Carmona, Associate Professor University of Tarapacá. The discussion was structured around critical questions concerning the role of visual arts in shaping and contesting cultural narratives, the challenges of ensuring inclusivity in curatorial practices, and the evolving landscape of ethnographic research through a gendered lens. This dialogue provided a platform for examining how historical perspectives and contemporary practices intersect and diverge, particularly regarding the representation and involvement of women.

The day concluded with insightful lectures from scholars Laura Lewis and Benoît de l’Estoile, who expanded on Drucker-Brown’s work by discussing the implications of her research on mestizaje, field interactions, and identity formations in Mexico. These talks not only contextualised Drucker-Brown’s contributions within broader academic debates but also highlighted the ongoing relevance of her work in understanding cultural and social dynamics.

This event was not merely academic; it was a proactive step towards rethinking how museums can serve as dynamic spaces for critical conversations about race, gender, indigeneity, and the stewardship of cultural heritage. It underscored the museum’s role in fostering a deeper understanding of these complex themes and prepared the ground for future work. This initiative promised to enhance the dialogue between academic institutions and indigenous communities, aiming to preserve and celebrate cultural heritage in more inclusive and meaningful ways.

By day’s end, the narratives of the past were woven into present discussions, inspiring a diverse group of participants and promising to empower future generations of anthropologists and museum professionals. This event stood as a testament to the power of museums not only as custodians of history but as active participants in shaping the future of cultural dialogue and understanding.

Written by Jimena Lobo Guerrero Arenas and Paula López-Caballero

CRASSH welcomes the free expression of views within the law. Opinions expressed in this and all other interviews and blogs published on our website are not necessarily shared by CRASSH or the University of Cambridge.


  • Posted 15 May 2024
  • Contributor Jimena Lobo Guerrero Arenas and Paula López-Caballero
  • Tags ,


Tel: +44 1223 766886