Professional networks and curatorial challenges in the Zanzibar Museum, 1935-1942

Start: Feb 12, 2014 05:15 PM
End: Feb 12, 2014 06:15 PM

Location: Room 612, Institute of Archaeology

The Peace Memorial Museum, Zanzibar

Sarah Longair (British Museum) will give a seminar organised by the Institute's History of Archaeology Research Network on 12 February.

The seminar is entitled 'Tackling "the problems of an isolated, overseas museum": professional networks and curatorial challenges in the Zanzibar Museum, 1935-1942' and all are welcome.


In 1935, Ailsa Nicol Smith was appointed as the Curator of the Zanzibar Museum.  This institution had opened a decade earlier as an educational institution for the local community and as a memorial to the Great War. Arriving on the island with experience of museum work and an academic interest in anthropology, archaeology and education, Nicol Smith was well-placed to develop the Museum’s work.

Establishing professional links across the region, she lobbied for an East African museums federation, playing a leading role in the development of a new museum in Dar es Salaam in 1939. Her pioneering work drew praise from the Colonial Office in 1940, but her turbulent relationship with the Protectorate Government led to her resignation in 1942.

This paper will examine Nicol Smith’s tenure in Zanzibar to reveal the multiple pressures upon a curator in a colonial museum in the interwar period.  The history of her decision to resign draws attention to the intersecting professional spheres of museums and the Colonial Office.  The debates over the Museum’s role yield important insights into the contradictions within the imperial mission in Zanzibar and the critical role of the international museum network in Nicol Smith’s struggle to assert her expertise.

Any enquiries about the event may be directed to Amara Thornton.