Column from Powell Cotton Museum: Re-Imagining the Museum – Colonial Critters

Powell Cotton Museum

Last time we told you about our exciting collecting project ‘Namibian Narratives’. This week we want to tell you all about another project on the theme of decolonising the museum, this time based around our amazing and much-loved dioramas.

Launching in September 2020, ‘Colonial Critters: Reinterpreting historical natural history displays for, and with, modern audiences’ is a two-year project that will delve into the Powell-Cotton Museum’s extensive archives to explore the colonial history of our natural history collection and re-examine the stories that are told in our galleries.

Local community members will be invited to participate in the project through working groups, providing a chance to share their views on the proposed changes and help to shape the future of the displays.

Percy Powell-Cotton hunted in India and across the African continent between 1890 and 1939, when many of these regions were under European colonial rule. His collection of trophies and specimens, including over 6,000 mammals, is of huge historical and scientific importance. But Percy did not collect these animals alone: his success as a hunter is due to the expertise and labour of the many Indian and African people he worked with during his expeditions. Likewise, the Museum and dioramas owe their existence to the work of many local people in Kent.

Rachel Jennings, Curator of Natural History and lead on this project, said: “The stories of the many people who helped build this Museum and its collections have not really been told before – the focus has been very much on the Powell-Cotton family. We’re really lucky to have archive records that give us glimpses into the lives of the people Percy worked with. We want to bring them into the galleries, refreshing the displays with more open and inclusive narratives. The dioramas themselves will not physically change, but the way we look at them will.”

This project forms part of the Powell-Cotton Museum’s wider project to ‘Re-imagine the Museum’. Originally planned to launch in April 2020, Colonial Critters was delayed by the Covid-19 crisis but we look forward to starting soon.

We’ll keep you up to date with our progress and look forward to many of you joining us on our journey.

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