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Imagined Cosmopolis

Internationalism and Cultural Exchange, 1870s–1920s


Edited By Charlotte Ashby, Grace Brockington, Daniel Laqua and Sarah Victoria Turner

The period from the 1870s to the 1920s was marked by an interplay between nationalisms and internationalisms, culminating in the First World War, on the one hand, and the creation of the League of Nations, on the other. The arts were central to this debate, contributing both to the creation of national traditions and to the emergence of ideas, objects and networks that forged connections between nations or that enabled internationalists to imagine a different world order altogether. The essays presented here explore the ways in which the arts operated internationally during this crucial period of nation-making, and how they helped to challenge national conceptions of citizenship, society, homeland and native tongue. The collection arises from the AHRC-funded research network Internationalism and Cultural Exchange, 1870–1920 (ICE; 2009–2014) and its enquiry into the histories of cultural internationalism and their historiographical implications.

This collection has been edited by members of the ICE network convened by Grace Brockington and Sarah Victoria Turner.

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12. Universal Histories, Universal Exhibitions and Universal Museums in Europe: Henry Cole and the Legacies of the South Kensington Museum (Hervé Inglebert / Sandra Kemp)


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12   Universal Histories, Universal Exhibitions and Universal Museums in Europe: Henry Cole and the Legacies of the South Kensington Museum

On 23 January 1874, in a speech at Kidderminster School of Art, the inventor and former museum director Henry Cole (1808–82) announced: ‘The South Kensington Museum has been as my child, to which I have devoted days and nights of more than twenty years. […] It has set an example which has been copied by thirty-five new museums in Europe.’1 Cole had been instrumental in developing the South Kensington site and served as the first director of the South Kensington Museum between 1857 and 1873. This chapter explores the ways in which the creation of the Museum was paradigmatic of changing nineteenth-century attitudes in Europe towards ‘universal’ histories. It examines Cole’s projects between 1850 and 1870 in relation to similar viewpoints found in European historiographies and exhibitions in London and Paris in the mid-nineteenth century, charting their legacies for understandings and conceptualizations of ‘universal’ histories, exhibitions and museums later in the century. Within the context of Cole’s South Kensington, this chapter also considers the lasting impact of temporary international exhibitions for the design of national museums with universal pretensions, and in shaping the cartography of their permanent collections. As the introduction to one of the South Kensington Museum’s earliest catalogues (1853) makes clear: ‘the Collection embraces works of all periods, from the earliest epochs to the present...

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