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History and Heritage Seminar Series: Contested Space - the Early Uganda Museum and Political Authority in Colonial East Africa

Dr Ali Bennett, University of Manchester

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Nottingham Trent University invites you to participate in an online History and Heritage seminar series. This online seminar series brings together experts covering a variety of topics relating to history and heritage

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When present-day Uganda became a British Protectorate in 1894, the colonial government set about establishing a formal presence in the prominent region of Buganda. With a royal capital already in what is now Kampala, Buganda had long been a well-established indigenous kingdom with historical roots reaching back to the fourteenth century. The perceived political sophistication, ‘civilization’, and cooperation of the Kingdom and its leaders so impressed British colonial officials that they began to set up their own governmental centre in nearby Entebbe in pursuit of an Anglo-Ganda state-building project. This paper will focus on the Uganda Museum (as it is known today) as a pivotal feature of that early governmental infrastructure. In line with other recent studies, it will probe the idea of the colonial museum as a so-called ‘tool of empire’, arguing that it served as an informal but crucial testing ground for other imperial power structures and schemes. Drawing on governmental files in Uganda’s National Archives, this paper will document the negotiations that the colonial administration faced in setting up the Museum in 1908, both among its own departments and with local Ugandan leaders. As an informal site for political debate, the Uganda Museum offers a fascinating analytical lens on attempts at soft imperial power at this time, while simultaneously illuminating a number of internal tensions within the early colonial state. It also complicates traditional accounts of museums which view them solely as tools of white European males and shows that this institution was a site of local resistance and power as well.

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