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Perspectives on military collections and the British empire

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.

Desmond Thomas

At a glance, the dearth of research that exists today in relation to regimental museums in the UK, and their collecting practices, is rather surprising given that the collections they hold represent a sizeable portion of the UK’s military history and heritage. Due to the role of the various corps and regiments in the conquest, garrisoning and establishment of the British Empire, their collections house many objects which demonstrate, at least partially, the material culture of Britain’s imperial and foreign policies from the seventeenth century onwards. However

in Dividing the spoils
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Custom and practice
Edward M. Spiers

A plentiful by-product of the British wars of empire in the mid- to late nineteenth century was plunder or booty, or as it became commonly known from the mid-nineteenth century term, ‘loot’ (allegedly from the Hindi word lut , to plunder). By these means artefacts from outside the UK would come to adorn, by turn, the Royal Collection, national museums, regimental museums and some stately homes across the country. With the passage of time, items of symbolic or national value have been claimed by their countries of origin (as the Afterword identifies) for

in Dividing the spoils
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Dividing the spoils
Henrietta Lidchi and Stuart Allan

) – a possible reason why modified Ethiopian cups are found with such regularity in regimental museums as an inheritance of officers’ mess collections. This volume uses overviews, case studies centred around types of objects, and campaign studies to highlight the moments of extraction and the ways in which individual agents within the British Army were guided by custom and practice and formal governance structures in their manner of collecting. Curios, loot, trophies Looking at military colonial collections more biographically provides insight into the categories

in Dividing the spoils
Louise Tythacott

representation. Military museums and ‘trophies of war’ There are around 136 military museums in the UK, 9 one of the most numerous museum types, but one which has received relatively scant attention in the museological literature. The majority of these museums, as Jones notes, were set up from the 1920s onwards 10 : ‘[They] . . . were not formed to present war, but for the specific purpose of instilling and fostering in the regiment the esprit de corps which enables it to fight more effectively. The depiction of the past in regimental museums is required, therefore, to

in Dividing the spoils
An anthropology and history of the military interior
Charles Kirke and Nicole M. Hartwell

the British Army at home and abroad is remarkably silent on the subject of the officers’ mess, especially the objects within it. 12 Such analysis is facilitated by the examination of primary source material including military memoirs, both military and civilian newspaper and journal articles as well as illustrations and photographs of officers’ messes and their objects which currently reside in the collections of regimental museums, the National Army Museum and the Royal Collection. While it may be assumed that artefacts acquired during imperial military campaigns

in Dividing the spoils
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Material reckonings with military histories
Henrietta Lidchi

setting of the military museum. Regimental museums have, until recently, been most consciously targeted at an audience of military personnel, featuring a requisite pilgrimage at the beginning of a military career seen as fostering an esprit de corps which helps to preserve the inherited history of a regiment or corps through generations, and that might later on serve to promote cohesion and resolve in combat situations. Museum collections of non-European and indigenous cultures were developed in the nineteenth and twentieth century through a number of

in Dividing the spoils
Eighteenth-century powder horns in British military collections
Stuart Allan and Henrietta Lidchi

thereafter on army premises at the Rifle Depot, Winchester, the depot being the permanent administrative and recruiting base of a British infantry regiment at this period. 50 The regiment had been aware of the powder horn’s existence in a local private collection since as early as 1927. 51 The Royal Sussex Regimental Museum was established in 1930, again on army premises at the regimental depot in Chichester. Gaull’s powder flask and knife entered the collection in 1963, at the point when the regimental collection was mostly in store following the closure of the depot

in Dividing the spoils
Open Access (free)
Edward M. Spiers

limitations; only a small proportion remain in their original form, often deposited in national or regimental museums, and most survive as printed material in nineteenth-century newspapers. Although editors reproduced some letters fully and accurately, their intervention, as already described, devalued many of the originals. Where comparisons with original letters can be made, as in the correspondence of

in The Victorian soldier in Africa
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John M. MacKenzie

dispersed in Britain. They could be found in the great institutions like the British Museum and the South Kensington or V&A Museum. They also appeared in regional, civic, university and regimental museums, as well as in the collections of learned societies, great country houses or private homes. Some of these were not necessarily open to the public (though they often became so later). Clothing, armour

in Museums and empire