Domestic Museums of Decolonisation? Objects, Colonial Officials, and the Afterlives of Empire in Britain

Jeppesen, Chris and Longair, Sarah (2020) Domestic Museums of Decolonisation? Objects, Colonial Officials, and the Afterlives of Empire in Britain. In: Decolonising Europe? Popular Responses to the End of Empire. Routledge, pp. 220-237. ISBN 9780367139605

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Domestic Museums of Decolonisation? Objects, Colonial Officials, and the Afterlives of Empire in Britain
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This chapter draws on recent oral history research undertaken in the homes of former colonial civil servants to consider the relationship between objects and the formation and narration of memories of colonial service. It combines oral history and material culture approaches to consider how former colonial officials who served in the latter years of empire and decolonisation remember and memorialise colonial encounters within their contemporary homes. Described by Anthony Kirk-Greene as the ‘ultimate diaspora’ of decolonization, the 25,000 plus colonial officials who returned to Britain at the end of empire brought with them a vast array of items from former colonial territories. Many of these diverse objects remain present in contemporary homes and still act as tangible, quotidian reminders of past lives and encounters. Within the retrospective narratives of many former officials, mostly now in their 80s and 90s, a sense of nostalgia is pervasive; however, this often goes beyond an uncomplicated lament for lost status and privilege to reveal much about the impact of lifecycle and affective entanglements in shaping postcolonial narratives of empire.

In this chapter, we will explore questions of memory, nostalgia and domestic display through a series of interviews with former colonial officials and their spouses about objects brought ‘home’ from empire. It considers how this group remembers the dislocations of decolonisation and have incorporated memories of imperial service into their post-colonial domestic lives. The idiosyncratic curation of domestic space reveals how objects can present personal narratives and memories of places and individuals encountered during careers in empire, but also become habituated into quotidian twenty-first century life. Objects frequently play a key role in mediating these memories and supporting highly selective accounts of the end of empire, but they also provide a means to interrogate these narratives more rigorously. Exploring the meanings of objects as markers of memory, this paper charts the confluence of material culture, memory and autobiography in shaping post-colonial narratives of empire amongst former officials.

Keywords:Imperial History, Material culture, Decolonisation, Memory, Oral history
Subjects:V Historical and Philosophical studies > V147 Modern History 1950-1999
V Historical and Philosophical studies > V270 World History
P Mass Communications and Documentation > P131 Museum studies
V Historical and Philosophical studies > V322 Oral History
V Historical and Philosophical studies > V210 British History
Divisions:College of Arts > School of History & Heritage > School of History & Heritage (History)
ID Code:42906
Deposited On:10 Nov 2020 13:01

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