Matthew has ongoing projects in both East Africa and Sapmi (the Arctic region inhabited by the Sami). He seeks to foster an understanding of how transitions in subsistence and conceptions of ethnicity are marked in the production and distribution of material culture.
Subsistence Transitions in East Africa
The Omotik and Okiek people of East Africa are best known for their honey keeping and hunting practices. Within living memory, many have adopted livestock and agriculture, heavily assimilating with adjacent groups like the Maasai. The cultural exchanges are by no means unidirectional; herders and farmers have adopted many components of a hunting and gathering lifestyle. A number of other players—from missionaries to NGOs—have acted as active agents of change in the lives of hunter-gatherers.
Matthew studies ongoing shifts in subsistence strategies to understand similar changes in the past, a past which for most of human prehistory was spent hunting and gathering. Within the past 10,000 years, many people have become entirely dependent on domesticated plant and animal products. His work focuses on technological and ideological exchanges between groups who practice different subsistence patterns. The work is equally relevant to local communities, in a time when many indigenous groups are concerned about the pace of change of traditional lifestyles.
Production of Material Culture Amongst the Sami
The Sami--an indigenous Arctic group who live in Finland, Norway, Sweden, and Russia-- are best known for their reindeer herding, but practice a diverse range of lifeways. Matthew works closely with the Sami documenting the production of their material culture, especially that which is produced in cultural revitalization contexts. He applies this knowledge to better understand revitalization processes which have occurred in the past.
Matthew has helped with the recreation of a traditional regional boat (the planks of which are sewn together with pine roots), and is aiding to digitize collections at the Sami Museum Siida in order to facilitate the relearning of culturally-valued skills and techniques from museum collections.