Jack Davy

Miniaturisation and material culture

Supported by

Arts and Humanities Research Council

Can miniature objects contain and transmit representative ideological messages? Project examined through Native North American case studies.

Start Date: September 2013
End Date: September 2017
Theme: Objects, meanings, and knowledge, Image and authority, Technologies, materials and innovation
Research discipline: Anthropology, Fine and decorative arts, Museum studies
Locations: Americas
Staff member: Jago Cooper
Department: Department of Africa, Oceania, and America
University and department: Department of Anthropology, University College London
University supervisor: Ludovic Coupaye
Profile: Academia.edu

For what purposes are miniatures made?

Study may determine that miniature objects have representative qualities which are not immediately obvious

How can representation be part of a miniature?

Examining the choices a maker has made in the construction process may reveal clues to the representational qualities of a miniature object.

Can we understand a miniature’s hidden messages?

Recontextualising a miniature in the environmental network from which it emerged may allow us to understand its original meaning.

About my research

Miniature objects appear in some form in every human culture, where their diminutive size appears to give them unusual powers of fascination. These objects are often described as decorative or even functionless, but can they instead have representative functions only made possible by being impractical for daily use?

This project will explore whether people have deliberately imbued miniature objects with powers of ideological representation and if so the methods by which they have done so and most importantly how we can translate and interpret these messages in a vastly removed time and place from the original context.

Focusing on case studies from the indigenous peoples of the Northwest Coast of North America, this project will seek to recontextualise miniature objects within the social and technical networks from which they emerged in an effort to explore their intangible dimensions of representation.

Aims of my research

I aim to demonstrate whether or not the supposedly non-functional miniatures produced by Northwest Coast carvers are in fact forms of non-verbal communication enacted through the representative qualities embedded in their conception and construction.

By exploring a wide range of miniatures and collaborating with contemporary indigenous carvers I hope to generate an understanding of the social and technical networks which surround the miniatures and thus generate insight into the complex meanings which these objects may have held for those that made them and their intended audience.

Ultimately the project is intended to develop ways of exploring and understanding miniature objects from a wide range of global contexts, improving the ability of scholars to examine, interpret and present these fascinating and yet little understood objects.


“Miniature messages in material culture”. Paper delivered at symposium: “Poles, Posts and Canoes: the Preservation, Conservation and Continuation of Native American Monumental Wood Carving". Tulalip, Washington. 22 July 2014

“What Makes a Miniature?”. Paper delivered at “Worlds in Miniature" symposium. British Museum, London. 20 June 2014


The Blackfoot at the British Museum