The Powell-Cotton Museum’s dioramas are visual spectacles that delight audiences, but they aren’t representations of ‘real life’. Starting in September 2020, we are undertaking a project called ‘Colonial Critters’, which will look critically at the context in which these displays were created. In this project we will delve into the history of the Museum and uncover the ‘hidden’ stories in our extensive archive,
including those of the communities with whom Percy Powell-Cotton worked across the African continent, in India, and in Kent to make this place. We will engage our staff and audiences in the process to find out what stories they would like the Museum to tell, giving the opportunity for some uncomfortable – but ultimately more rounded – histories to be displayed. The aim of decolonisation is not to re-write history, but to be more open and transparent about the origins of our collections.
This presentation will outline the Colonial Critters project, and discuss what decolonisation means to us at the Powell-Cotton Museum.
About the author
Rachel works at the Powell-Cotton Museum, where she is Curator of Natural History and manager of the Colonial Critters project. Her research encompasses the history of natural science collections at the intersection of trophy hunting, scientific collecting, and colonialism. She has an extensive collection of animal-themed clothes, some of which she has sewn herself. firstname.lastname@example.org / @rachisaurus
Presented in the second session of the ‘Decolonising Natural Science Collections’ NatSCA online conference, 19 November 2020.