A South Asian Summer

Unbelievably it’s been almost a year since I last blogged! Since my entry in August 2016 I’ve been working on a number of exciting South Asia related projects, and had the opportunity to visit India.

In December 2016 I travelled to India with colleagues Menaka Munro, Learning Manager, and Dr Nick Merriman, Director. We met museum professionals, explored potential collaborations, and conducted research in Mumbai, Kolkata and Delhi. The visit culminated in Kerala where we joined colleagues from Manchester, Liverpool, and Leeds at the Kochi Biennial.


Market, New Delhi, December 2016

The visit was part of our preparatory work for three exhibitions opening this summer, and a new gallery dedicated to the history and culture of South Asia opening in 2020. From mid-August onwards Manchester Museum will be brimming with South Asian art, culture and history:

  • Memories of Partition – A collaborative project documenting the collective memory of families in Manchester affected by the 1947 Partition of India into the independent nations of India, Pakistan, and subsequently Bangladesh in 1971. Opens to the public on August 15
  • Celebrating Ganesha – A temporary British Museum loan of a magnificent stone sculpture of the Hindu god Ganesha dating to the thirteenth century. Opens to the public on September 2. Find out more here
  • Reena Saini Kallat – A solo art show featuring the work of contemporary Mumbai based artist Reena Saini Kallat. This show is part of the wider New North and South project. This show will open with a series of others at the Whitworth, Manchester Art Gallery, and Manchester Museum of Science and Industry from September 29 onwards. Find out more here   

In some way each of these projects will contribute to the creation of the new gallery. The South Asia Gallery is being developed in partnership with the British Museum and Manchester’s diverse South Asian communities. It will explore the history and culture of South Asia from the earliest periods of human occupation to the modern day diaspora. The gallery is part of Manchester Museum’s wider Courtyard Project that will see an extended and revitalised museum opening in 2020. Find out more here.


Curious About the Congo? The Study’s the Place to Be

On 11th September 2015 Manchester Museum opens it’s dynamic new space The Study. The Study will provide stimulating surroundings and resources for users ranging from hobbyists to academics to explore and be inspired by the museum’s encyclopaedic collections. Part of this new space is a temporary exhibition gallery.

The Study

The inaugural exhibition for The Study’s gallery is The Phantoms of Congo River: Photographs by Nyaba Ouedraogo. Nyaba is an internationally renowned photographer and previously exhibited work in Manchester at Manchester Art Gallery in 2012 during the season of West African art called We Face Forward. This exhibition is Nyaba’s response to Joseph Conrad’s infamous 1899 novella Heart of Darkness. The text raises challenging questions about 19th century colonialism and racism in Africa, questions that Nyaba confronts in his work.  The curiosity and critique embedded in Nyaba’s work is the kind of new thinking The Study aims to facilitate and encourage.


On display will be 13 of Nyaba’s most powerful prints accompanied by stunning objects from the Living Culture’s collection. You’ll be able to peruse the full series of prints in Nyaba’s catalogue which will be publicly available in the Discover area of The Study. We’ll also have copies of Heart of Darkness in the Share area. From 11th September onwards there’ll be an exciting series of events across The Study, including those related to the Congo, so keep up to date at the Manchester Museum website (http://bit.ly/1AuFKXTand The Study Twitter feed (http://bit.ly/1INaiY2).


If you’re looking for something to do this Friday evening do consider our After Hours: Warriors of the Plains event which starts at 6:30pm. For more information visit http://bit.ly/18J1Tpx

During the event the Mustard Tree Drama Group will perform their play Home Is Where The Heart Is? and playwright and poet Anjum Malik will perform her monologue The Lost Salford Sioux. Both works have been inspired by the Warriors of the Plains exhibition and historic connections between Native North Americans and Greater Manchester. Any such dramatisations can be accused of lacking historicity, as Jane McGrath writes in relation to the historical dramas ‘Professional film reviewers are tame compared to the wrath of nit-picking historian’ http://bit.ly/OeHx0h

A performance of This Accursed Thing at Manchester Museum. The piece dramatised Manchester's role in the Transatlantic Slave Trade. Taken in 2007.

A performance of This Accursed Thing at Manchester Museum. The piece dramatised Manchester’s role in the Transatlantic Slave Trade. Taken in 2007.

As a curator I could easily be accused of nit-picking but working with performers and writers provides an invaluable opportunity to introduce both emotion and experience. Tonight’s performers conducted extensive research and became thoroughly enthralled by Native North American history and culture. Combining this with their own experiences of change and continuity has produced truly captivating and sensitive pieces.

At Manchester Museum we’re always looking for innovative ways to further understanding between cultures. Drama, poetry and performance are invaluable tools in this endeavour.

In & Out

Loaning objects to other institutions is an important function of any collection, and non more so than with the Living Cultures collection. As I mentioned in my previous post (Coming to America) we currently have an Iroquois club and axe head on loan to the Bowes Museum, but we also have several Maori objects on loan to the Captain Cook Memorial Museum, Whitby. The objects, which inlcude an impressive Maori canoe prow, are taking part in the exhibition Oceans apart! Canoes of the Pacific on until early November 2013 . For more information visithttp://www.cookmuseumwhitby.co.uk/special-exhibition/. Quite wonderfully the Cook recently won the 2013 Visit England award for the best Small Visitor Attraction!

Maori canoe prow on display at the Captain Cook Memorial Museum. Manchester Museum Living Cultures collection. 2013.

Maori canoe prow on display at the Captain Cook Memorial Museum. Manchester Museum Living Cultures collection. 2013.

We also have a loan returning to us soon from the exhibition The Seven Treasures: Japanese Enamels from the V&A at Weston Park Museum, Sheffield. The exhibition closes this coming Sunday, for more information visit  http://www.museums-sheffield.org.uk/museums/weston-park/exhibitions/current/the-seven-treasures-japanese-enamels-from-the-v-and-a. The loan in question is a samurai helmet used to illustrate the importance and sophistocation of Japanese lacquer work.

Samurai helmet on display at Weston Park Museum. Manchester Museum Living Cultures collection. 2013.

Samurai helmet on display at Weston Park Museum. Manchester Museum Living Cultures collection. 2013.

Samurai helmet on display at Weston Park Museum. Manchester Museum Living Cultures collection. 2013.

Samurai helmet on display at Weston Park Museum. Manchester Museum Living Cultures collection. 2013.

Sharing objects from the Living Cultures collection with new audiences, institutions and colleagues is always a welcome opportunity.

Coming to America

Last Wednesday we opened our very latest temporary exhibition Warriors of the Plains: 200 years of Native North American honour and ritual. The exhibition is on tour from the British Museum and is with us until early November 2013. Alongside the British Museum objects we also have some of our own wonderful Native North American objects including clubs, a tomahawk, pipe-stem, pipe bag and headdress. For more information about the exhibition visit http://www.britishmuseum.org/whats_on/past_exhibitions/2010/warriors_of_the_plains.aspx

Warriors of the Plains. Manchester Museum. 2013.

Warriors of the Plains. Manchester Museum. 2013.

Staying with Native North America we’ve also loaned an Iroquois club and axe-head to the Bowes Museum near Durham. The objects have taken pride of place in the exhibition Jeremiah Dixon: Scientist, Surveyor and Stargazer which is on until early October 2013. For more information visit http://www.thebowesmuseum.org.uk/exhibitions%20and%20events/exhibitions/forthcoming/261/

Iroquois club and axe-head on display at the Bowes Museum. Manchester Museum Living Cultures collection. 2013.

Iroquois club and axe-head on display at the Bowes Museum. Manchester Museum Living Cultures collection. 2013.

Both exhibitions are a must!

Board & Plaque

Recently Manchester Museum Youth Board chose a wooden plaque from the Canadian Pacific Northwest for inclusion in their forthcoming exhibition. The large plaque, which we believe was collected by Sir Henry Wellcome (1853 –1936) in the late 19th century, had been displayed somewhat out of view in the World Cultures gallery for over a decade. It has now been taken down and is awaiting the attention of our conservators.

Carved wooden plaque. Pacific Northwest, Canada. 19th century. Manchester Museum Living Cultures collection. 2013.

Carved wooden plaque. Pacific Northwest, Canada. 19th century. Manchester Museum Living Cultures collection. 2013.

The plaque, made from several pieces of cedar wood, depicts a pair of killer whales and a bear in inimitable Pacific Northwest style. Both of these animals are extraordinarily important to the indigenous people of the Pacific Northwest and their images adorn innumerable wooden carvings, including totem poles. Pacific Northwest tribes such as the Haida and the ‘Namgis have a long and rich tradition of expertly and artistically sculpting wood.

Detail of a carved wooden plaque. Pacific Northwest, Canada. 19th century. Manchester Museum Living Cultures collection. 2013.

Detail of a carved wooden plaque. Pacific Northwest, Canada. 19th century. Manchester Museum Living Cultures collection. 2013.

To get a closer look at the plaque be sure to visit us when the Youth Board exhibition opens in the next few weeks!

Mythical Hound or Designer Dog? The Story of the Irish Wolfhound

On 4 November 2012 The Sunday Times reported that the Irish Kennel Club (IKC) wanted the Irish government to give special protection to the country’s native dog breeds (http://www.thesundaytimes.co.uk/sto/news/ireland/article1159270.ece ). Amongst the breeds mentioned were the Glen of Imaal terrier, the Irish beagle, the Kerry Blue terrier, but special attention was given to the Irish wolfhound.  Sean Delmar, the President of the IKC, stated that this breed had been ‘kept by the Irish for centuries’ and along with the other dogs should be ‘afforded protection as symbols of our national heritage’.  A recent issue of the IKC magazine stated that the origins of the dog ‘stretch back into the mists of Irish time’.

Irish wolfhound as displayed in the exhibition Breed: The British and their Dogs, Manchester Museum. The taxidermy specimen is on loan from the Natural History Museum, London. 2012.

 The Irish wolfhound is one of the breeds featured in Manchester Museum’s exhibition on Breed: The British and their Dogs which opened last month and runs until 14 April 2013.  The exhibition draws on a project on the history of modern dog breeds in the Victorian era and the display on the Irish wolfhound reveals that its origins are in England in the Victorian era.  It was certainly one of the most controversial breeds of the nineteenth century.  The history told then was that it once amongst the famous and sought after dogs in Europe, famed for its size and ability to hunt down wolves.  However, as the wolf population of Ireland declined, the last pair being killed in 1786, such hunting dogs went out of favour and had disappear altogether by the start of the nineteenth century.

Irish wolfhound display in the exhibition Breed: The British and their Dogs at Manchester Museum. 2012.

In the 1860s, George Augustus Graham, a Scot and ex-Indian Army officer who lived in Gloucestershire, decided to revive the Irish wolfhound.  He had heard that there some dogs in Ireland with wolfhound blood and he set out to find them.  He bought three dogs he was assured were of the right descent and took them back to his estate in England.  They were a motley lot and proved hard to breed from; one was infertile and the others produced weak dogs.  However, there was a question about what type and size of dog Graham should aim to revive.  No one alive remembered the dogs, so Graham turned to books, poems, travelogues and paintings.  No consistent type was represented.  Some descriptions emphasised size ( 4-5 feet in height!); others described a greyhound-like form, but this competed with views that it had been a mastiff or deerhound. There were also varying views on its colour, type of coat and character.

On this basis of his research Graham decided on a particular form, height, colour and coat, and a life size model was said to have been made;  although the only direct record we have is the ideal dog overdrawn on a photograph of Graham (see the image below).  A dog of the appropriate form was eventually produced, allegedly with Graham introducing blood from Scottish deerhounds (for shape), Great Dane (for size), borzois (for its greyhound shape) and Tibetans (for a rough coat).

Captain Graham and his ideal Irish wolfhound as featured in his annotated version of his own book the Irish Wolfhound. 1885.

Graham’s dog was challenged by H. W. Hickman, a breeder from Birmingham.  In a correspondence with Graham and others in the Livestock Journal and Fancier’s Gazette in 1879-80, he claimed that the true Irish wolfdog – not hound – was smooth-haired and more like a greyhound or Great Dane, not the rough coated animal that Graham had produced.  His grounds for this was his reading of sources on Irish mythology and history, plus the descriptions of George-Louis Comte de Buffon and above all challenging the authority of Major H.D. Richardson’s book The Dog: Its Origin, Natural History, and Varieties, published in 1842.  Hickman objected strongly to Richardson’s claim that the Irish wolfhound and the Scotch deerhound were the same breed, and that Scotch was a degenerate form of the Irish!  Hickman, a breeder of Scotch deerhounds, argued that Richardson was simply wrong and that Graham, who had followed Richardson’s plea to save the breed, had been misguided.  He wrote:

‘I am sorry to oppose Mr GRAHAM, whose patience and determination for so many years in the pursuit of his theory, are worthy of – as I take it – a better cause; but if we are to have a new manufacture, let us at least have it in accordance with the direct evidence we possess, and not encourage a dog which is a creature of inference, supposition and conjecture.’

However, Graham’s type proved popular and was recognised by the Kennel Club in 1897.

There is no doubt that as a cultural icon the Irish wolfhound has its origins in ‘the mists of Irish time’, however, the modern physical specimen originated in the 1860s in England, through the work of a Scotsman likely breeding with Scottish, Danish, Russian and Tibetan dogs. 

Professor Mick Worboys
Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine and Wellcome Unit for the History of Medicine
University of Manchester