School of Social and Political Science

Nathan Sydenham

Job Title

PhD Student

Research interests

Research interests

As an anthropologist and lecturer working between the interstices of Indigenous studies and critical museology, my research is regionally focused on Japan. It concerns the politics of recognition and expressions of identity amongst the Ainu of Hokkaido, Sakhalin and the Kuril Islands—people forced to assimilate into Japan through systems of domination inscribed through colonial management.

The particular focus of my study is Dr Neil Gordon Munro (1863-1942), an Edinburgh-trained physician who lived in Japan for many years and, during that time, became an assiduous scholar of Ainu culture and collected Ainu artefacts, many of which are in the collection of the National Museum of Scotland. These artefacts now attest to the disruptive social construction of past lives and support (re)articulation of how Ainu identities are experienced, understood, represented and remembered.

Museums establishing themselves and their collections through conquest and colonisation in and of foreign lands is not new. Still, whilst not seeking to repudiate past work with Indigenous communities, I employ stand-alone and multi-disciplinary interventions that tackle the disproportionately higher burden Indigenous groups face due to ethnographic methods failing to keep in step with anthropological knowledge production.

This study contributes to our understanding of the entanglement of museums with the emergence of anthropology and archaeology and the contemporary politics of recognition and cultural revitalisation amongst the Ainu people. Discussions concerning the decolonisation of museum collections in the context of histories of British Imperialism and Japanese settler colonialism underscore the project’s broader aim to energise conversations about Indigeneity.


PhD in Social Anthropology: University of Edinburgh (2021 – present) Supervision: Dr. John Harries & Dr. Arkotong Longkumer

MA in Social Anthropology: SOAS University of London (2020) Supervision: Prof. Paul Basu

PGDTLLS Professional Graduate Diploma in Teaching in the Lifelong Learning Sector: University of Derby (2009)

Works within