• 6 November 2018
  • 1:00 – 2:00 pm
  • Seminar Room

Fellows Lunch by Claire Wintle

Curatorial practice is often seen as a solo enterprise in which an individual cares for their collections and constructs a personalised narrative for their audiences. While the potential for collaboration between curators and museum users is increasingly well theorized, and the relationships between objects and people a dynamic field of study, the professional networks that surround curators and therefore shape museum practice are not yet fully understood. This talk shares recent research on the history of curatorial communities based in UK museums who worked with the art and artefacts of Africa, Asia and Oceania in the middle years of the twentieth century. Between 1945 and 1980, as empire crumbled and the museum world professionalised, ‘museum ethnographers’ grappled with the critical questions of decolonisation, democratisation and underfunding that still engage us today. They were doing so from within networks of curatorial practice.

With a focus on this group of mid-century museum anthropologists, this talk asks how the role of the curator is informed by imagined and actual networks of colleagues, both within and without the museum, and within and without the nation. It considers the role of peers, volunteers and students, as well as professional associations, ranging from specialist groups to supranational councils and organisations. The paper considers the driving factors of collective working, from the largest, intangible political and economic shifts, to the smallest objects that can be held in the hand. It investigates the physical exchanges that support such networks, ranging from metonymic letters, drawings and objects, to concrete human encounters. Considering the complexities of museum archives and oral histories as resources for investigating curatorial communities, the paper scrutinises the value of such communities, the burdens they enact, the hierarchies that shape them, and the impact they have on museum practice. 

Speaker's Bio

Dr Claire Wintle is senior lecturer in History of Art and Design and Museum Studies at the University of Brighton. Her research focuses on objects, collecting and museums and examines the ways in which the material world interacts with the politics of empire, nationalism and decolonisation. Her current project on UK museum anthropology, 1945-1980, is supported by a Mid-Career Fellowship from the Paul Mellon Centre for British Art.

Claire is the author of Colonial Collecting Display: Encounters with Material Culture from the Andaman and Nicobar Islands (Berghahn, 2013). She edited, with Ruth Craggs (KCL), Cultures of Decolonisation: Transnational Productions and Practices, 1945-1970 (Manchester University Press, 2016), and has published in journals including American Historical Review, Journal of the History of Collections, Museum and Society and Third Text. She has previously worked in collections and public programming at World Museum Liverpool, Manchester’s Museum of Science and Industry, and Royal Pavilion and Museums, Brighton & Hove. She is the course leader of the MA Curating Collections and Heritage, a collaboration between the University of Brighton and the Royal Pavilion and Museums, Brighton & Hove.

Image credit: Museum team moving a Mayan cast, c. 1975, Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, University of Cambridge.