Decolonizing collections: The reception and consumption of classical casts in pedagogy in the British Empire

Amalia Wickstead (UCL, in partnership with the Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford)

Supervised by Professor Phiroze Vasunia (UCL) and Dr Milena Melfi and Dr Shailendra Bhandare (Oxford)

Amalia gained a first-class BA(Hons) in Classical Studies & Ancient History and Art History from the University of Auckland, Aotearoa New Zealand in 2021. She was then awarded a University of Auckland Research Masters Scholarship and achieved a first-class MA in Art History, also at the University of Auckland, in 2022. While working in and on museums and archives in Aotearoa New Zealand, she developed a research interest focusing on the use of antiquity by the British Empire as a colonising instrument, particularly through art and pedagogy. Her previous research has highlighted the use of plaster casts of the antique in educational contexts to culturally colonise Aotearoa New Zealand and the South Pacific. Her CDP project aims to provide much needed insight into the role of these objects in South Asia. 

Amalia’s PhD looks at the connections between the British Empire’s mission and systems of pedagogy which prioritised Greco-Roman antiquity. Using the Ashmolean Museum’s large collection of plaster casts, the project will examine the import, dissemination, and role of an often-neglected category of museum objects. By positioning them within current debates on colonialism, imperialism, and nationalism, the study aims to contextualise the collection at the Ashmolean next to smaller, peer-collections in South Asia and other epicentres of British colonisation and to question their complicity in colonial histories.