The experience of a “lady curator”: negotiating curatorial challenges in the Zanzibar Museum

Longair, Sarah (2012) The experience of a “lady curator”: negotiating curatorial challenges in the Zanzibar Museum. In: Curating Empire: museums and the British Imperial experience. Manchester University Press, Manchester, pp. 122-144. ISBN 9780719085079

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In 1935, Ailsa Nicol Smith was appointed by the Colonial Office as the Curator of the Zanzibar Museum (also known as the Peace Memorial Museum). Arriving on the island with experience of museum work and an academic interest in anthropology and education, she was well-placed to develop the work of the Museum, which had been established in 1925 specifically as an educational institution for the whole community.

Typical of a solitary curator, she undertook multiple responsibilities beyond care of the collections and presenting them to the public, and was dependent upon the local staff in maintaining the Museum. She established professional links across the region by lobbying for an East African museums federation and by designing the displays and training the staff of the new museum in Dar es Salaam in 1939. Her work in the field of education in this pioneering Museum drew particular praise in 1940 from the Colonial Office. However, her turbulent relationship with the Protectorate Government led to her resignation in 1942.

This chapter examines Nicol Smith’s tenure in Zanzibar to explore the challenges faced by a curator in a colonial museum in the interwar period. Tracing the history of her decision to resign brings attention to the intersecting professional spheres of museums and the Colonial Office, at a time when both were becoming increasingly specialised. The Museum’s collection and mission were determined by her predecessor, Dr. Alfred Spurrier, a medical doctor and resident in Zanzibar since the 1890s, who focused the Museum’s work upon public health initiatives. In the 1930s, welfare increasingly became the domain of other Government departments, leaving Nicol Smith to assert her curatorial expertise and defend the position of the Museum as a Government institution.

Keywords:Imperial History, Museums, east africa, curating
Subjects:V Historical and Philosophical studies > V140 Modern History
V Historical and Philosophical studies > V254 East African History
V Historical and Philosophical studies > V210 British History
Divisions:College of Arts > School of History & Heritage > School of History & Heritage (History)
ID Code:24238
Deposited On:21 Sep 2016 17:13

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