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Research Seminar: Department of Museum Studies
China Displayed: “glittering curiosities” from the Celestial Kingdom in Victorian Britain
Amy Jane Barnes
Monday, 12th March 2007, 1pm, LT1
This seminar will look at the display of Chinese material in Britain during the nineteenth century, with a focus on the Great Exhibition of 1851 and the South Kensington Museum (which became the Victoria & Albert Museum in 1909), as well an earlier commercial exhibition displayed at Hyde Park Corner and known as the ‘Celebrated Chinese Collection’.
The nineteenth century was the era which saw the construction and consolidation of many of the ideas about China which are still present in the popular consciousness, aided and abetted by institutions such as the International Exhibitions - which became such a defining feature of the Victoria era - and the establishment of museums such as the South Kensington Museum, as the V&A was known until 1909.
The period of the seminar’s focus, the mid to late nineteenth century and the establishment of these institutions, coincided with colonial expansion and heightened popular patriotism and confidence in the Empire. The exhibitions and displays which this seminar will focus on also coincided with, or were established in the aftermath of, the Opium Wars which fuelled popular interest in China.
Taking as its hypothesis, that ideas about China are inextricably linked with the reception of its material products, and objects created in the ‘Chinese style’, nineteenth century ideas of Chineseness, therefore, will be shown to have a basis in the wider contemporary vision of China in the popular consciousness, through an (brief) examination of the development of western images of China and, in particular, ideas about Chinese art, from earliest times to the mid-nineteenth century.
Amy Barnes is currently a second year PhD student in the Department of Museum Studies at the University of Leicester. Her thesis will examine the collection, interpretation and display of the material culture of the Chinese Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) by contemporary British museums.
She was previously employed as Curatorial Assistant at the Percival David Foundation of Chinese Art, SOAS (2000-2001).
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