The McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research is pleased to announce Dr Helen Alderson as the fifth Renfrew Fellow in Archaeology, named in honour of the Institute’s founding Director, Professor Lord Colin Renfrew.

Dr Alderson has contributed to diverse archaeological projects in Micronesia, Melanesia and Polynesia. Notably, she generated Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum’s first digital catalogue of Micronesian archaeological artefacts, under the guidance of Dr Mara Mulrooney. Outside of academia, Helen worked as an Archaeologist for a consultancy firm in Christchurch, New Zealand, during the city-wide rebuild after a series of major earthquakes.

From 2015-2019, Helen was a Gates Scholar at the University of Cambridge, studying for a PhD in Archaeology through St John’s College. She researched how certain Micronesian weavers and carvers maintained and developed their identities in the increasingly interconnected world of the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Since October 2019, Dr Alderson has worked as a temporary Senior Assistant Curator at the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, University of Cambridge. In this capacity, Helen has curatorial oversight of the World Archaeology collections and display spaces in the Andrews Gallery. She also supervises students in Archaeology and Heritage Studies. Due to the challenges surrounding COVID-19, Helen will continue in this role until September 2021, when she will take up the Renfrew Fellowship.

In her role as a Renfrew Fellow, Dr Alderson will advance archaeological methods through which to study the agency and expertise of women in Oceania. Specifically, she will consider how women’s experiences as expressed in archival and ethnographic museum collections can be linked with existing archaeological landscapes to reveal both personal stories as well as group-level dynamics.

Her case study will focus on women’s lifeways and artisanal knowledge in the 18th to 20th centuries with an emphasis on woven textiles, plaiting, carving and pottery from Melanesia and Micronesia. She will observe various ways in which women transmitted material culture and design knowledge between individuals, social groups and islands. Helen will also consider how women transferred expertise and created locales when they moved to new islands for the first time, a goal that will see her looking back further into the past.

Helen notes: “I am thrilled and humbled to be chosen as a Renfrew Fellow. I am looking forward to working with a wide variety of knowledge holders and researchers to build a multi-vocal project that develops innovative methods and accumulates exciting new data. I hope that the project will contribute to the McDonald Institute’s track record of creative, inter-disciplinary and global teamwork. Of course, none of my research would be possible without the support and guidance that I have received from many different people over the years, including that from local knowledge holders, academic advisors, colleagues, friends and family.”