The 'Lost' Museum: the rise and fall of the British Empire in objects

Lead Research Organisation: University of Westminster
Department Name: School of Humanities

Abstract

Key hypothesis: the development and decline of the RUSI Museum articulates a particular, semi-authorised reading of British imperial history from the late eighteenth century to the empire's dissolution in the 1960s.

The RUSI Museum, 1831-1962, is a 'lost' museum with collections that have left their 'ghostly' presence across national and international museums and private collections. It survives as an archival record, or shadow, in the heritage and legacy of RUSI. My key approach, as outlined above, is to interrogate my hypothesis that the development and decline of the RUSI Museum reflects British imperial history from the late eighteenth century to the dissolution of empire as British colonies demanded their independence.

This hypothesis has been formed through my curatorial practice at RUSI and my research in the RUSI archives. This began with the presentation of papers on the Institute's history, and its collections, for the Library and Information History Group and the Museum and Galleries History Group conferences of 2018. The interested responses from other participants at these conferences, along with the regular influx of enquiries I receive about objects that were held in the museum, demonstrates an ongoing interest in the history of the 'lost' museum. It has almost mythic status, so that citing it in an object's provenance in a sales catalogue adds significant cultural, if not financial, value.

Publications

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