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Biography: Elizabeth Bonshek

Elizabeth Bonshek

Dr. Elizabeth Bonshek, along with collaborator Lindy Allen, is a recipient of the 2019 Rakow Grant for Glass Research. Bonshek and Allen will investigate trade cards from glass bead manufacturers to trace the origins of glass beads used in indigenous objects in the Western Pacific. “The main outcome,” the researchers say, “is to develop a prototype sample book that draws together examples of trade beads and creates a baseline of data for comparison of the formal attributes of these glass beads with those identified in artifact collections.” Included in the study will be an examination of relevant archives and trade literature to “create new understandings of European colonial expansion and networks from the mid-19th century.”

The current archaeological literature assumes a Venetian origin for glass beads in northern Australia, but Bonshek and Allen will suggest other possible sources. Anthropological literature does not address this question, but evidence from Papua New Guinea shows that traders brought in glass beads in large quantities from Europe.

“Our study focuses on identifying glass bead manufacturers that may have been embedded in the expanding global network of colonial markets in the Pacific, as well as Africa, India, and North America, in the late 19th century,” note Bonshek and Allen.

An anthropologist, Dr. Bonshek earned her doctorate from the Australian National University and works with cultural heritage collections from Melanesia (Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, and Vanuatu). She has taught museum studies at the University of Canberra, and was senior curator, Pacific Collections, at Museums Victoria, Melbourne.