Looking at European developments from 2017 to 2019, the Afterword situates the volume among the resurgent interest in questions of contested histories, calls for restitution, and the resurgence of provenance research. It argues that given the varied ways European nations are addressing questions of colonial collections, it seems contradictory that the collections of military museums are seemingly absent from the debate. The chapter consequently considers the affective values of objects, and the symbolic nature of return, arguing that there is a distinction to objects in UK military collections, linked to the idea of ‘sentiment’. Looking again at the conflict highlighted in the Introduction, it addresses two initiatives in 2018 in the UK which discussed the 1868 capture of the fortress at Maqdala and two items, again linked to Emperor Tewodros II, which over time have troubled their national custodians. It considers how such questions were addressed through display at the Victoria and Albert Museum and links this to the National Army Museum’s gesture of returning hair samples linked to Emperor Tewodros. Comparing these two initiatives it seeks to understand the historical moment in which such discussions, and therefore the issues addressed in Dividing the Spoils, can be more widely understood.
A contrasting choreography of flags, military booty and skulls from late nineteenth-century Africa
The later years of the Victorian era saw a series of ‘small wars’ and large battles conducted in Africa. This essay analyses two of these taking place in successive years (1897 and 1898): the Benin Punitive Expedition in the riverine creeks of south-eastern Nigeria and the Battle of Omdurman in the deserts of Sudan. In spite of their clear imperial motivations, in both cases military engagements were justified as defensible retaliation for the actions of what were represented as callous rulers. Yet the two conflicts otherwise contrast sharply in scale, in how they were reported, what was acquired by way of booty and in the ultimate fate of what was brought back from each. Some objects were judged appropriate to the royal collections, others to the national collections or smaller military museums, with significant numbers shifting between them. Each relocation, it is argued, represents a different commodification. The complex range of divergent object biographies is discussed, exploring how some have retained an enduring status as trophies while others have taken on a new personhood beyond the circumstances of their original acquisition.
This chapter contextualises the way collecting from military campaigns can be viewed as the acquisition of trophies parallel to the trophy collecting of hunting. From the eighteenth century onwards, hunting and shooting were seen as the image of war and were considered essential training for campaigning. Hunting produced natural history trophies which became a central collecting interest for museums, messes, clubs and private homes. The collecting of ethnographic trophies was closely related to this phenomenon in contemporary understanding, as part of a comprehensive approach to collecting the natural history of the world and its peoples. Colonial military campaigning was often associated with hunting expeditions and trophy collecting of both sorts took place. In the nineteenth century colonial campaigning and hunting stepped up its incidence and geographical range. Improvements in transport technology and auction-house infrastructures and advertising facilitated the dispersal of such materials. This chapter discusses the significance and meaning of such collecting in several ways: for the development of imperial ideologies, for the arousal of popular interests, and for the emergence of natural historical, ethnographic, anthropological and ideological concerns. It also examines how it came to be significant for the instruction of a wider audience, becoming part of imperial propaganda.
This chapter examines how the National Army Museum, in the course of a major redevelopment, set about creating the new ‘Insight’ gallery to reflect the British Army’s historical presence around the world. Artefacts collected by British soldiers while serving in West Africa, the Panjab, Egypt and the Sudan were chosen for the first redisplay. The ‘Insight’ gallery highlights how artefacts were taken, for instance as battlefield loot or deliberately to deprive conquered peoples of the symbols of political power. In advancing new interpretations, the museum wished to demonstrate the relevance of the past to the present, and to that end organised workshops with community groups within the UK – Sikh, Ghanaian and Sudanese – in order to discuss their responses to the museum’s collections. This led to the reinterpretation of collections with the museum, in particular through reading inscriptions, which reveal entirely new provenance information, or alternative identifying materials and techniques. These collaborative discussions elicited various, and sometimes conflicting interpretations, of the collections and recommendations as to how they should be displayed. The results of this work can be found in the current display through audio-visual interpretation.
Over 130 military museums in the United Kingdom preserve the historical collections of British regiments, corps and services (including two naval museums). Their collections contain artefacts acquired by British servicemen in colonial warfare and on imperial garrison duties across the globe. Outside military culture, the phenomenon of collecting in theatres of war is primarily associated with looting. However, those who encountered the British Army in its colonial garrisons and campaigns met with a remarkably heterogeneous enterprise. Drawing from a series of research workshops funded by the Royal Society of Edinburgh and case studies developed with British Academy/Leverhulme, support, the essays in this edited collection will combine the perspectives of anthropologists and historians to test current understandings of military collecting beyond Europe. Dividing the Spoils will variously address motivations and circumstances for collecting and appropriation, the place of collected objects in the context of military organisational culture and the legacy of military collections as material witnesses of encounters between non-European peoples and imperial forces. The book argues for an understanding of these collections within a range of intercultural relationships which embrace diplomacy, alliance, curiosity and enquiry, as well as conflict, expropriation and cultural hegemony.
Eighteenth-century powder horns in British military collections
Stuart Allan and Henrietta Lidchi
Engraved power horns are a well-known aspect of the material culture of the Seven Years’ War (1756–1763), also known in North America as the French and Indian War. In looking at collections in military museums across the UK it emerged that powder horns were a distinctive form of material culture from this campaign. Powder horns were often personalised and artistically adapted, and they feature widely in North American collecting institutions and remain of considerable interest to private collectors. Though many are decorated with detailed maps of the theatre of war, others carry more personalised imagery or inscriptions and were made ‘on the hoof’ by amateur artists as mementoes. This chapter focuses on three examples which have an additionally important feature, the carrying straps likely procured from indigenous allies, which documentary evidence suggests might have been military issue. These include straps that are cut down tumplines (burden straps), glass wampum belts, woven belts or quillwork ‘prisoner ties’. Such items are known from early antiquarian collections. This chapter reviews the possible intercultural relationships encapsulated in the survival of these objects in military museums, and discusses their symbolic value within the military culture of the eighteenth-century British Army.
The trajectory into the collections of National Museums Scotland made by two horn cups is explored as a means to discuss military culture and collections of the non-European world. Both cups are associated with storming at the fortress city of Maqdala, Ethiopia in 1868. These objects are examined here from a shared, interdisciplinary perspective embracing museum anthropology and military history. They represent the products of one end of a range of collecting practices, running from looting through to scientific collecting, and between which the boundaries are not always clear. The stories of their acquisition, and of their afterlives as museum objects, open up some of the complexities and fascinating ambiguities which can emerge from close study of material of this kind. These, and similar objects preserved in military collections across the UK, raise questions about the relationship between the British Army and Empire, the culture and practices of appropriation, collecting and memorialisation in British military culture, about the fluidity of the terminology applied to such objects, and about the challenges and opportunities inherent in interpreting such objects for museum visitors in the post-colonial era.
Sikh jewellery in the collection of National Museums Scotland
This chapter traces the historical trajectory of pieces of jewellery and personal effects in the collection of National Museums Scotland which once belonged to the last Sikh ruler of Panjab, Maharaja Duleep Singh (1838–93). Deposed from the throne after the Second Anglo–Sikh War, exiled and deprived of his possessions, religion and identity, Duleep Singh has been considered a pawn of Empire. Rather than interpreting the jewellery as signs of royal splendour, the chapter foregrounds the historical significance of these jewels. Using archival sources, the chapter traces their different ownerships back to the dispersal of the Lahore treasury, or Toshakhana, following the defeat of the Sikh army by the British in the Second Anglo-Sikh War 1848–49 and emphasises the multitude of perspectives of the different agents involved in the British Empire in India on these objects.
In October 1860, at the culmination of the Second Opium War (1856–60), British and French troops looted and then burnt the imperial buildings in the Yuanmingyuan (known at the time by foreigners as the ‘Summer Palace’) in the north of Beijing. This widespread destruction of China’s most important complex of palaces, and the dispersal of the imperial art collection, is considered one of the most extreme acts of cultural destruction of the nineteenth century. Over a million objects are estimated to have been looted from buildings in the Yuanmingyuan; many of these are now scattered around the world, in private collections and public museums. This chapter analyses the display of ‘Summer Palace’ objects in five military museums in the United Kingdom, exploring the meanings constructed around China’s imperial artefacts at these particular sites of representation.
An anthropology and history of the military interior
Charles Kirke and Nicole M. Hartwell
This chapter uses a model of British Army organisational culture and historical analysis to examine the nature of the ‘military interior’ – specifically the public rooms in the officers’ mess and the artefacts found within. The authors seek to combine their expertise to create a broader understanding of how military culture is lived out in this space, dynamically in terms of how the members treat the mess as both a domestic space and a focal point for performance of battalion and regimental identity, and statically as a place where artefacts – from regimental silver to pieces acquired on imperial campaigns – are displayed. By placing these artefacts in their historical mess settings, this chapter examines the various meanings that can be ascribed to them in this culturally distinct environment. These meanings may be associated with the nature of the military hierarchy; with the expression of mutual respect and affection towards present and past mess members; with operational performance and success; and with the identity of the battalion or regiment.