Dividing the spoils

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.

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