ECSAS 2023 – Turin 26-29 July

South Asia in a former Second City of Empire: Reimagining the South Asian Collection at Edinburgh’s National Museum of Scotland (NMoS)


Voigt Friederike - National Museums Scotland, Global Arts, Cultures and Design, Edinburgh, United Kingdom


12 – South Asian Collections in European Museums: Examining their acquisition, display, and futures


In this paper, we analyse fifteen years of curatorial work with the South Asian collection at the NMoS. From 1854, the museum reflected Edinburgh’s position as a second city of Empire. For many decades, visitors entered the museum building through a copy of the eastern gate of the Great Stupa at Sanchi. Various galleries in the museum displayed a broad range of Indian artefacts and specimens. Since the 1950s, the worldview of what was an industrial museum has changed and with it the relevance of its South Asian collection. This shift from a collective Imperial project to a multidisciplinary institution is a local expression of the global museum paradigm crisis, posing challenges for the collection’s curator.The South Asian collection is very fragmented. Advocating for its inclusion in displays, researching its history, collaborating around engagement activities, and identifying contemporary development strands has been challenging. Friederike Voigt has been curator of this collection since 2008. Case studies of a series of projects from this time are used to show how this collection has been made meaningful internally and for different groups in society within the demands of the museum’s changing strategic plans and its external contexts. Scotland’s government believes in a multicultural society, with a nationalism that attempts to carve a post-colonial identity different from that of England. Is the future of the South Asian collection to contribute to these imperatives?