Settler colonialism on display: Martin Crevier, Museums, Connections, and Imagination in the Making of a British World, 1870-1945, PhD dissertation, Cambridge University, 2021


Abstract: This dissertation examines how settlers came to terms with the landscape and the peoples in the areas in which they were based, from the last third of the nineteenth century to 1945. Focusing on museums and art galleries in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and Canada, as well as on the scientists, philanthropists, and artists who gravitated around them, it develops a comparative and connected understanding of these institutions. More largely, it offers a characterisation of the intellectual underpinnings of settler colonialism in what historians label the ‘British world.’ This dissertation makes two arguments. Firstly that settler colonialism, as violent as it was and remains, is also an intellectual process that requires the aesthetic and cognitive appropriation of space and peoples. Secondly, that the development of proto-nationalist sentiments across Britain’s settler colonies is best understood in relation to these appropriative practices. The first two chapters focus on the early development of colonial museums and galleries. They highlight how they were central to the emergence of developmentalist visions of nature and of imperially-minded historical sensibilities. The second chapter concludes with a consideration of Indigenous relationships with museums as examples of historical reinscribing. The third and fourth chapters complicate the boundaries of the ‘British world’. They consider the involvement of the Carnegie Corporation of New York in museum practices across the dominions during the interwar period. Fears of white degeneration pushed the Corporation to invest in colonial museums as a means to uplift settler populations. This set the table for future interconnections, notably in the realm of the fine arts. As Chapter Four highlights, Carnegie money brought about an intra-Empire Commonwealth exchange of exhibitions that sought to buttress national art schools inspired by the landscape paintings of the Canadian Group of Seven. The final chapter emphasises the incorporation of Indigenous peoples and their material culture within settler nationalisms. It compares and connects the careers and ideas of the South African Irma Stern, the Canadian Emily Carr, and the Australian Margaret Preston. It argues that the three absorbed and shared museum and anthropologically-inflected conceptions of the Other.

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