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Race on display: the “Melanian”, “Mongolian” and “Caucasian” galleries at Liverpool Museum (1896-1929)

Tythacott, Louise (2011) 'Race on display: the “Melanian”, “Mongolian” and “Caucasian” galleries at Liverpool Museum (1896-1929).' Early Popular Visual Culture, 9 (2). pp. 131-146.

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Abstract

This paper examines a form of evolutionary display that emerged at Liverpool Museum between 1896 and 1929, one based on racial types. It traces the formation and early history of this institution, as well as the development of evolutionary theories in the mid-late nineteenth century. The paper moves on to analyse the beliefs and exhibitionary practices of Liverpool Museum's director, Dr Henry Ogg Forbes (1851-1932) and the influence of A H Keane’s work on the organisation of collections. In 1896, notably, the Annual Reports began to list all new accessions under three races – Melanian (or 'black'), Mongolian (or 'yellow') and Caucasian (or 'white') – terms closely linked to those articulated by Keane in his books Ethnology (1895) and Man: Past and Present (1899). By 1901, this tripartite racial categorisation was translated to the spatial layout of the museum: the basement was devoted to Melanian objects, in the main entrance were the Caucasian displays, while the upper floor housed the Mongolian gallery. As the collections became reassembled into these new configurations, so the conditions of viewing artefacts also changed. The paper contends that the physical reorganisation of spaces and the implementation of new scopic regimes carried with them ideological messages which reinforced the intended hierarchy of peoples and material culture. It concludes by reflecting on the power ethnographic museums wielded in late Victorian and Edwardian Britain in promoting notions of scientific racism in popular culture.

Item Type: Articles
SOAS Departments & Centres: Faculty of Arts and Humanities > Department of History of Art and Archaeology
ISSN: 17460654
DOI (Digital Object Identifier): 10.1080/17460654.2011.571039
Depositing User: Louise Tythacott
Date Deposited: 18 Jul 2014 11:05
URI: http://eprints.soas.ac.uk/id/eprint/18666

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