Nikki Grout

Legacies of Collecting, Collaboration and Co-production: The British Museum and West Africa

Supported by

Arts and Humanities Research Council

An investigation into interactions between UK museums and West African institutions and individuals in the years surrounding independence.

Start Date: October 2016
End Date: March 2020
Themes: The 'lives' of objects from their making, use, reception, loss, collection and later use and understanding. How objects and their histories can most effectively be presented, exhibited and explored through different media and forms of public and learning programmes.
Research discipline: Museum studies
Location: Africa, UK
Staff member: John Giblin
Department: Department of Africa, Oceania, and America
University and department: University of Brighton, Department of Humanities
University supervisor: Claire Wintle

How did those in West Africa influence the contents and interpretation of the British Museum at this time and vice versa?

Archive records suggest that resources and expertise were exchanged during fieldwork in West Africa and African archaeologists visited London to share knowledge and gain training. This research will explore the nature and impact of such work.

Was the same thing happening in other UK museums with West African collections?

This project will explore whether co-operative work was part of wider mid-century trends by examining museum archives in the UK and West Africa.

What is the legacy of this history in terms of museum collaboration today?

Providing historical context for projects such as the British Museum Africa Programme will enhance our understanding of complex collaborative work and inform future practice.

About my research

Exchange and dialogue with countries from which collections originate is recognised as a key feature of post-1970s’, post-colonial museum practice. However, archive records suggest that in the 1950s and 1960s, staff from the British Museum were already working closely with museums and individuals in the decolonising nations of West Africa. This research will examine these early and understudied examples of international museum practice. It will ask:

What was the nature of British Museum co-operation with individuals and institutions in Nigeria and Ghana in the years surrounding the countries’ independence?

Using the British Museum as a case study, alongside comparisons with other UK museums, this project will explore the collections and interpretations that have been generated and the professional practices that have emerged as political and cultural frameworks have changed at individual, national and institutional levels during and following decolonisation in Ghana and Nigeria.

Aims of my research

The main aim of this project is to shed light on an understudied yet crucial period in museum history (1945-1980) and present new perspectives on transnational museum practice.

The project also aims to enrich understanding of the foundations of current collaborative work in museums and inform the sector’s future practice.