Tips for Student Researchers


The Oberlin College Ethnographic Collection (OCEC) Database provides images of and information about a series of cultural objects once housed in the former Oberlin College Museum, many of which were obtained from indigenous groups far and wide by Oberlin-affiliated missionaries and teachers. The Database is supplemented by links to primary and secondary source materials that relate to the anthropological and historical contexts in which the OCEC was created and developed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Together they promise to be a valuable resource for students conducting research in a number of disciplines, including anthropology, art, history, religion, gender studies, history of science, museum studies, and a number of area studies, especially of Africa, Asia, the Pacific, and North America.

Becoming familiar with the history of the collection and its contents
It's recommended that you first read about the history of the collection to gain an understanding of its structure and history. Explore the database by browsing the images, and by conducting word searches using geographic terms or place names, donor names, object types, material or technique of manufacture.

What kinds of topics can be researched with the collection?
The OCEC Database, used in conjunction with primary and secondary source materials (e.g., books, journal articles, archival materials), provides innumerable possibilities for scholarly discovery. Just a few examples of research topics include:

  • How were specific objects in the OCEC used and valued in their original cultural context?
  • What meanings did collected objects acquire in their new contexts as missionary and museum specimens?
  • Investigate the history of Oberlin College Museum and biographies of the alumni who donated materials to its collection.
  • Explore the development and purpose of the Oberlin College Museum; how did its practices compare with those of other collegiate museums in the post- Civil War era?
  • Learn about 19th and 20th century missionary work and religious movements in the U.S. and abroad.
  • Investigate indigenous responses to missionary activities or natural history collecting endeavors within their communities.
  • Research Western gender norms and ideals as viewed through the writings and activities of women missionaries who donated items to the Oberlin College Museum.

Examples of Student Projects
Ethnographic and archival materials often lend themselves to visually-driven modes of display, organization, study, and dissemination. Click here for examples of digital scholarship produced by students working with the Oberlin College Ethnographic Collection Database.

Selected Resources