Over 130 military museums in the UK preserve the historical collections of British regiments, corps and services. Their collections contain artefacts acquired by British servicemen in colonial warfare and on imperial garrison duties across the globe, variously acquired as trophies, prize, souvenirs, curios and specimens. These objects are little known outside the constituency of military history and within their current institutions rarely researched in reference to their complex intercultural biographies.
By tracing collections histories through archival and material evidence the project is investigating the meaning of non-European objects in military organisational culture and their value as material witnesses of encounters between non-European peoples and imperial forces. Furthermore, it reappraises the complex variety of motivations for military collecting. These range, on the one hand, from the deliberate and systematic looting of captured fortresses or cities with which we in the post-colonial world are perhaps now most familiar, to the exchange of gifts and trade between military allies on the other.
The core project team comprises Henrietta Lidchi (Principal Investigator), Stuart Allan (Co-investigator) and Nicole Hartwell (Research Associate), and continues National Museums Scotland’s collaborative partnership with the National Army Museum. It draws on the findings of two earlier projects – Hidden in Plain Sight (supported by the Royal Society of Edinburgh) and Material Encounters (supported by the British Academy and Leverhulme Trust).
The project team has been supported by an academic and museum-based Advisory Board, the details of which can be found here.