Race on display: The 'Melanian', 'Mongolian' and 'Caucasian' galleries at Liverpool Museum (1896-1929)

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

  • Authors:
  • Louise Tythacott


This paper examines a form of evolutionary display that emerged at Liverpool Museum between 1896 and 1929, one based on racial types. It traces the formation and early history of this institution, as well as the development of evolutionary theories in the mid-late nineteenth century. The paper moves on to analyse the beliefs and exhibitionary practices of Liverpool Museum's director, Dr Henry Ogg Forbes (1851-1932), and the influence of A.H. Keane's work on the organisation of collections. In 1896, notably, the Annual Reports began to list all new accessions under three races - Melanian (or 'black'), Mongolian (or 'yellow'), and Caucasian (or 'white') - terms closely linked to those articulated by A.H. Keane in his books Ethnology (1895. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press) and Man: Past and Present (1899. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, revised and largely re-written by A. Hingston Quiggin and A.C. Haddon). By 1901, this tripartite racial categorisation was translated to the spatial layout of the museum: the basement was devoted to Melanian objects, in the main entrance were the Caucasian displays, while the upper floor housed the Mongolian gallery. As the collections became reassembled into these new configurations, so the conditions of viewing artefacts also changed. The paper contends that the physical reorganisation of spaces and the implementation of new scopic regimes carried with them ideological messages which reinforced the intended hierarchy of peoples and material culture. It concludes by reflecting on the power ethnographic museums wielded in late Victorian and Edwardian Britain in promoting notions of scientific racism in popular culture. © 2011 Taylor & Francis.

Bibliographical metadata

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)131-146
Number of pages15
JournalEarly Popular Visual Culture
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - May 2011

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