Applied Anthropologist Bronwyn Hall

This month ANSA profiles Bronwyn Hall, a fabulous anthropologist who has just finished her PhD research on the everyday practices of Ayurvedic wellbeing in Kerala, India, and has for a while been working at the Adelaide Goal Museum. Here, she shares a bit of her ‘applied anthropology’ with us, for inspiration.

1. Could you tell us a little bit about yourself? 

I’m a 42 year old post graduate student from Adelaide. My family are in NSW, but I relocated to SA to start a PhD. I’ve worked in women’s health, local government and academia. I also run The Research Den, a study-skills support service focused on teaching essay writing skills to secondary and tertiary students.

2. What do you do currently do in terms of work, in a nutshell? 

I work at the Adelaide Gaol Museum.

3. How do you apply the knowledge and skills of anthropology in your work?
My job involves managing the gaol’s museum collection, curating displays and exhibitions, archiving, and oral history research. Every day I use core anthropological knowledges in ethnographic research and interviewing. But also, skills I have learnt through anthropology such as active listening, being empathetic and interested in other people, managing diverse interests of stakeholder groups are all essential to my work.

4. Tell us about an interesting or important project you’ve contributed to. 
There’s so many! Everything is interesting and important when it is connected to the state’s history. Every day I find artefacts in the museum’s collection and set about tracing the stories of the objects, finding people who worked in or did time in the gaol, who can shed light on the artefacts. The gaol closed in 1988 and was the longest continually operating prison in Australia. It is fascinating how many prisoners and staff are still in Adelaide and visit the gaol as a museum. Connecting their oral histories to artefacts is such a joy.

5. What are some common challenges in your work? 
The work is surprisingly physical. But better than sitting at a desk!

6. What do you love about your work? 
The people and the privilege of being amongst such significant historical archives.

7. How did you get to where you are today? 
Patience and planning.

8. What advice would you give to a student of anthropology who wants to work in your field? 
It’s a great avenue to pursue if you want to work as an anthropologist in Australia. There are curators, archivists, oral historians, and research librarians who all have specialist skills in the field, but anthropologists also have a lot to offer. Volunteer yourself or work with volunteers because you will work alongside or manage volunteers if you work in a museum. Also, experience in event management is helpful because running special exhibitions, open days, launches and the like requires event management skills. Also, I’d suggest networking amongst the museums community – it is a community full of artistic, interested and vibrant people