Return of the Empire: private expatriate archives in UK Museums and Libraries

Lead Research Organisation: University of the West of England
Department Name: Fac Creative Arts, Humanities & Education


We are proposing a two-workshop series to bring together museum curators and librarians with archivists, academics, and other stakeholders, to discuss how to enhance the UK's research holdings on the experience of empire in the twentieth century.

With the passing of the colonial generation, there are increasing depositions of expatriate material in UK museums and libraries. The material frequently goes to museums, because publicly funded archives tend to have collecting policies that focus specifically on either local or national material. This leaves holders of expatriate/colonial material with two options: either the relevant museums (such as the British Empire & Commonwealth Museum, Imperial War Museum, or National Army Museum) or the University Libraries. The museums, it seems, are more readily identifiable as potential points of deposit than are the university libraries, which seem more remote to the general public.

Typically the materials deposited are paper-based archives with enormous research and educational value, but limited display potential. Researchers, depositors, archivists, museum curators and nationals from the countries of origin all have different interests in, and anxieties about, how this material is preserved and made accessible. There are practical and ethical issues that currently stand in the way of developing research access to such material. We hope that these two workshops - one focusing on how museums deal with archival (rather than display) material, and the other focusing on the specific challenges posed by expatriate material - will begin the process of resolving these problems.


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