Equine remains in collections: my PhD survey

So, let’s take a detour from some of the intellectual and thematic terrain we’ve been pursuing thus far on the blog, and take a moment to focus instead on the nitty-gritty. By nitty-gritty I mean “Getting the PhD done” stuff. I know I don’t talk too much about the practical aspects of my PhD, but since I’m clean out of ideas for the blog right now I thought I’d give you a little insight into what I’m working on today.

As part of my PhD I want to get a good idea of exactly WHAT sort of equine remains we have in collections across Australia, before I select and focus in on specific case studies. So to do this, I have decided to survey pretty much every likely collection in Australia! The survey is a two-part process. The first part involves contacting institutions (from the smallest to the biggest!) in order to ascertain if they hold any relevant material – examples include whole or parts of taxidermied horses, biological specimens, and decorative arts objects like horse-hoof inkwells and pin cushions (but not functional items such as hairbrushes or horse-hair stuffed furniture). The second part is the survey itself, which basically asks for a list of these objects, whether they have been exhibited, if so in what context, and for a brief statement of their significance.

I started rolling out phase one very recently, and the reason I am particularly excited about my survey today is that, after a string of “No, sorry, we don’t have anything like that in our collection” emails, I finally got a positive response! My husband, who has a Masters of Applied Statistics and is an all-round database wizard, helped me design* the survey tool, and when I told him today that I finally had somewhere to administer it, he panicked and said we needed to finesse it a bit more first. I actually think it’s petty amazing as it is – it does exactly what I want, and has way more structural flexibility than anything else I tried (including Survey Monkey, and the ANU’s own in-house electronic survey).

I am really looking forward to finding out what is out there, because at the moment it’s a bit of a mental blank canvas. Of course there’s the various bits of Phar Lap – heart and skin – as well as Sandy’s head at the War Memorial, Carbine’s skeleton at the Australian Racing Museum, and an assortment of horse-hoof inkwells that I know about, but I’m hoping that I might discover a lot more. Though I’m not holding my breath, because I may well discover that most of what else is out there is unprovenanced or undocumented, and therefore doesn’t contribute much to my research.

But for now, it’s exciting, not just because of what I might find, but because I feel like I have now actually embarked on the PhD proper!

 

* Actually the genius is all his!

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2 thoughts on “Equine remains in collections: my PhD survey

  1. As you’re linking the horse remains to an Australian National Identity, does that mean you’re not looking into how other countries interpret horse remains?

  2. Hi Camille,

    In my original proposal I had intended to include New Zealand in the scope of my research, but as I started making my list of institutions to contact I realised how much including NZ would increase my workload – my supervisor has suggested it would as much as double the amount I would have to do! Because the survey is really just a means to an end, I need to keep it manageable. For that reason, I am not going to include other countries.

    But I certainly have an ongoing interest in how other countries view horses, and potentially interpret their remains, even if it’s not part of my PhD research.

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