Legacies of Empire is about encounters and confrontations between nations and cultures in times of war. The objects featured here were taken, purchased or otherwise collected by British military and naval personnel during colonial wars or garrison service across the British Empire. Today, they are preserved in national and military museum collections. The contentious material legacy of the British Empire is represented in each object.
Collections made during the period of European colonial expansion from the 18th to the 20th century are controversial and widely debated today. Using the insights of military and imperial history, this exhibition investigates why these objects were collected, and how they came to be in museums. This exhibition is one of the products of a research project focused on military culture and the practices of taking and collecting in the midst of colonial warfare.
Since the middle of the 20th century the taking of objects in war has been regulated under international law. Objects taken in earlier colonial wars are today the subject of moral and legal discussions reflecting the different perspectives of a diverse society. These include arguments for wider access to international cultural heritage and, in some instances, return of objects to their country of origin.
National Museums Scotland is committed to presenting the colonial and imperial histories of the collections in line with rigorous and up-to-date research.