What happened to museums of world art and anthropology – often known as ‘temples of empire’ - during the demise of European imperialism? This strand of Claire Wintle’s research charts professional practice relating to Euro-American collections of Asia, Africa, Oceania and the Americas in the understudied mid-century period. It reveals the diverse ways in which museums were active in wider political, economic and social change, working as crucial gauges, microcosms, and agents of decolonisation. The project emphasises the role of (ex)colonial subjects and nations in the display of non-European collections in ‘the West’, and the progressive nature of museum practice, long before the ‘postcolonial’ in museums is assumed to have begun.
Claire has published articles on these themes as they played out in both the US and the UK in The American Historical Review and in Museum and Society journal. She is currently working on the first monograph to chart a UK-wide view of museum anthropology between 1945-1980, linking the sector’s development to wider political processes of immigration, nationalism, decolonisation and the Cold War. This will be supported by a Scouloudi Historical Award and a Mid-Career Fellowship with the Paul Mellon Centre for British Art in 2018.
Her interest in these ideas was also the basis for the book and associated international conference, Cultures of Decolonisation: Transnational Productions and Practices, 1945-1970, co-edited with cultural geographer Ruth Craggs of Kings’ College London and published by Manchester University Press in 2016. The collection is interdisciplinary and includes contributions on architecture, theatre, museums, heritage sites, fine art, and interior design. It considers institutions such as artists’ groups, language agencies and coin mints in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, and Europe. It asks what were the distinctive cultures of decolonisation that emerged in the years between 1945 and 1970, and what can they uncover about the complexities of the ‘end of empire’?
Claire also won funding for an AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Project with the British Museum to study British and West African museum collaborations between 1945 and 1980. She was selected to participate in the 2012 International Research Seminar on Decolonization sponsored by the National History Center, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and Library of Congress in Washington, DC, where she worked on these ideas.
List of associated publications
Wintle, Claire. "Decolonising the Museum: The Case of the Imperial and Commonwealth Institutes." Museum & Society 11, no. 2 (2013): 185-201.
Wintle, Claire. "Decolonizing the Smithsonian: Museums as Microcosms of Political Encounter." American Historical Review 121, no. 5 (2016): 1492-520.
Image credit: ‘Sketch for general layout of proposed Ceylon court, Commonwealth Institute. James Gardner, c.1961. Catalogue number: DES-LJG-3-3-2-18. James Gardner Archive, University of Brighton Design Archives.’