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Open Access Publications from the University of California

(Im)material Encounters: Ghosts and Objects at the Bancroft Ranch House Museum

  • Author(s): Pesch, Katrin
  • Advisor(s): Stern, Lesley F
  • Welchman, John
  • et al.

This project aims to bring artistic methods of inquiry to bear on current debates about the ontological distinction between persons and things that have emerged in the face of ecological crises. My dissertation presents an experimental ethnography that traces material and immaterial encounters around the Bancroft Ranch House Museum in East County San Diego. An obscure national and state historical landmark, the small museum is housed in an adobe that was built by white settlers on former Kumeyaay land and then bought by the historian Hubert Howe Bancroft in the late 19th century. A historically contested site, the museum also acts as a social hub and market place for a medley of things ranging from artifacts to discarded goods. My work takes its cue from the museum’s unorthodox archive––where the historical and the personal gather in relics as much as in refuse––to revisit matters that have shaped California’s social landscape, such as first contact, missionization, colonial settlement, water rights, and urban development. By following the daily routines of the site’s caretaker, I unravel how eccentric practices and unruly objects destabilize the official settler narrative. At the same time, the site becomes a probing ground to assess current discourses about object agency flourishing within the humanities, social sciences, and science studies. While it is important to reconsider who or what participates in the assembly of a social collective, as scholars such as Bruno Latour or Jane Bennett ask us to do, my fieldwork suggests that decentering the privileged space of the human subject cannot be at the expense of attending to repressed histories and social inequalities that remain unsolved.

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