Projections of Empire: The architecture of colonial museums in East Africa

Longair, Sarah (2019) Projections of Empire: The architecture of colonial museums in East Africa. In: The MacKenzie Moment: Essays Presented to Professor John M. MacKenzie. Britain and the World . Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN UNSPECIFIED

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As John MacKenzie highlighted in Museums and Empire, the architecture of the museum ‘came to evoke civic, colonial, national and imperial power’ and made ‘statements about the “progress” exhibited in the colony in relation to the rest of the world’. He noted the great significance of colonial museum buildings but recognised that this highly important aspect was beyond the scope of that particular study. While there have been notable contributions to scholarship on museum buildings and the architecture of the British Empire, there has yet to be a serious investigation into the architecture of the colonial museum. This chapter will redress this imbalance in the literature through a survey of museum architecture in the colonial world in the nineteenth century followed by examination of the museums built in Nairobi, Zanzibar and Dar es Salaam between 1919 and 1939.

These East African museums represent a particular phase in the history of museums in the British Empire. Established relatively late in the imperial era, they provide revealing and diverse examples of the meaning and expected benefits of such institutions as well as the influence of museums previously constructed in the empire. The contrasting style of these three museums demonstrates the range of local and imperial architectural influence: the domed monumental edifice of the Peace Memorial Museum in Zanzibar, the austere neo-classicism of the Coryndon Memorial Museum in Nairobi, and the relatively plain King George V Memorial Museum ornamented only with a tiled Moorish arched doorway. Their names also reveal a critical element in the realisation of museum building projects – that memorialisation offered an opportunity to call upon local populations to subscribe and provide funds.

Comparing the histories of their construction allows us to explore the confluence of various competing forces in the colonial arena, from the ideological to the pragmatic. Factors as varied as the perceived suitability of particular architectural styles to the type of colony and its population, the availability of funds, the specific needs of a museum building and local environmental conditions all informed the final designs. The form of the Peace Memorial Museum and the King George V Memorial Museum, both of which incorporate elements of Eastern architecture, provide the opportunity to examine how far the trends identified by MacKenzie in Orientalism: History, Theory and the Arts in relation to the influence of Orientalist architecture in Britain played out in the colonial world. This paper will analyse these buildings within their local, regional and global context to investigate the diverse influences of British officials, architects, museum progenitors and local populations on these projections of empire in twentieth-century East Africa.

Keywords:Imperial History, history of museums, Architecture, East Africa
Subjects:V Historical and Philosophical studies > V140 Modern History
V Historical and Philosophical studies > V360 History of Architecture
V Historical and Philosophical studies > V254 East African History
Divisions:College of Arts > School of History & Heritage > School of History & Heritage (History)
ID Code:31644
Deposited On:25 Oct 2018 09:05

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