Thoms at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. She traveled there to research the exhibit she is standing beneath, the ceiling from a ceremonial house created by the Kwoma people.

Congratulations to Hannah Thoms on receiving this award! Read on to learn more about her work and how she felt receiving this award.

What is your major/area focus?
I am studying anthropology with minors in museum studies and history.

How does it feel to receive this award?
It’s an honor and a surprise!

Who is your thesis advisor?
My thesis advisor is Stuart Kirsch and my graduate student mentor is Vincent Battista.

What was the title of your thesis?
“Collecting New Guinea: Transformations in the Lives of Four Ethnographic Collections, 1875 – 1988”

Can you tell me a little about what inspired your thesis?
I became interested in the ethics of collecting ethnographic objects while working as a collections intern at the University of Michigan Museum of Anthropological Archaeology (UMMAA). Parts of anthropology’s early history are problematic, and ethnographic collections are often a legacy of this history that museums preserve. I wanted to do research in museums and archives for my thesis and chose four collections from Papua New Guinea to use as case studies because each fit into the history of anthropology in an interesting way. As I worked on the project, it became less about ethics and more about how ideas about the use and value of ethnographic collections have changed over time.

This award is specifically for students who “made substantial use of archives or museums”.
Can you tell me a little about the records you used? 

I studied four of the UMMAA’s ethnographic collections from Papua New Guinea that were collected between 1875 and 1988. I used the UMMAA accession records for each collection and accessed several related archival collections at the Bentley Historical Library. Some collections had rich documentation while others had virtually none.

To expand outward from these four collections, I traveled to New York City to work with ethnographic collections at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the American Museum of Natural History as well as to Chicago to research a collection at the Field Museum.

What are your plans after graduation?
After graduation, I plan to work at Motown Museum in Detroit as a Collection Assistant. There, I will help plan the museum’s re-cataloging project, conduct research into the collection, and develop ideas for exhibits. I plan to apply for graduate school in the next few years to prepare for a career in museums.

Do you have any advice for future honors students?
As U-M students, we have access to so many resources and writing an honors thesis is an incredible opportunity to make use of them while exploring an issue that you find fascinating. The process is challenging but rewarding, so don’t be afraid to take risks and try new things in your research.

Anything else you’d like to share?
I am so grateful for all of the support I have received along the way from my advisors and mentors, from my honors cohort, and from my friends and family!