Journal Article

  • The Harrison Collection: Addressing colonialism in the collections of a Victorian big game hunter
    Middleton, J.
    Journal of Natural Science Collections, Volume 9, pages 29 - 34

    Scarborough Museums Trust holds the archive of a big game hunter James Jonathan
    Harrison (1857-1923) comprising of not only hunting trophies, but also a large number of photographs and nine hunting diaries. Shortly after his death, his collection was donated to Scarborough Corporation, where for many years it was displayed in the upper rooms of the library before eventually making its way to the town’s Natural History Museum when it opened in 1952.The photographs and diaries give a unique insight into his privileged lifestyle and insatiable appetite for shooting. In 2022 the museum is planning an exhibition based around Harrison’s photography which will address a number of difficult issues regarding not only the slaughter of hundreds of animals but also the exploitation of the indigenous peoples of Africa and especially the Congo. In 1904/5 Harrison brought six Mbuti, or Bambuti, people from the former ‘Congo Free State’, which at the time was ruled by King Leopold II of the Belgians, and toured them around UK Music Halls for
    nearly three years before returning them home. Historically, the popular media has told this story in a cheery, anecdotal way with only cursory, or apologetic regard for the clearly exploitative nature of the venture. Through the planned exhibition, this aspect of the narrative will be retold in a way which helps people think more about how selective interpretation of collections can perpetuate racism and that exploring these topics does not ‘rewrite history’.

    Keywords: Racism, Human zoos, Mbuti, Bambuti, Congo, decolonial approaches, hunting, natural history, museum interpretation, museum ethics, social justice