Living Cultures Collection

Manchester Museum, The University of Manchester, is committed to promoting understanding between cultures. One way in which it achieves this is through the use and exploration of its Living Cultures collection.

The Living Cultures collection has about sixteen thousand anthropological objects from Africa, Asia, the Americas and Oceania. Anthropology is the study of human cultures and behavior.  The objects in the collection were made by very many different people for very many different reasons.  A selection of these objects can be seen on display in the World Cultures gallery including spectacular Edo period samurai armour and a beautifully carved elephant tusk from Benin.

Samurai helmet

Samurai helmet. The Manchester Museum Living Cultures collection.

Most of the collection was collected by Victorians at the end of the nineteenth century when the British Empire was at its biggest and most powerful. This meant that British people had greater access to objects from different cultures. What started as a fascination for exotic objects would eventually become an academic discipline.

The Manchester Gallery reveals the ways in which many of these objects came to be in the collection, from the souvenirs of British soldiers to confiscations made by Manchester Airport Customs and Revenue staff.  Currently on display is a selection of Wanindiljaugwa objects from northern Australia which were collected in 1952 by Peter Worsley, once Professor of Sociology at The University of Manchester, as part of his research.

Wanindiljaugwa people in a canoe, 1952. Professor P M Worsley. The Manchester Museum Living Cultures collection

Wanindiljaugwa people in a canoe, 1952. The Manchester Museum Living Cultures collection.

Beyond exhibitions the collection is also used in research and education. Researchers and students often use the collection to trace how cultures have changed over time; this is particularly relevant as there is increasing concern about the effect of globalisation on living cultures. Schools and community groups use the collection to examine issues associated with cultural identity but also to simply explore unfamiliar cultures.  The Collective Conversations project records these interactions and some of the films, together with the objects, can be viewed in the World Cultures gallery and online.

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One thought on “Living Cultures Collection

  1. Pingback: Preservation of ‘Living Cultures’ & Mongolian bows at the Manchester Museum « Tsendpurev Tsegmid

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