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Maria Chiara Scuderi

History, University of Leicester

Thesis title:

Global Leicester: the Dryad Craftwork Collection at Leicester Museum and Art Gallery

My practice-based PhD explores the objects and archives of Leicester Museum and Art Gallery’s Dryad craftwork collection, with the aim to illuminate what linkages with the global and imperial context this new material culture history can reveal, and how it relates to museum studies and practice. The collection is extremely diverse in manufacture and global in scope, ranging from textiles to basketwork, wooden figures, painted boxes and coconuts. The objects have been sourced in international exhibitions and missionary expositions between 1907 and 1936, and come from Britain and Eastern Europe as well as British colonies in Australia, Africa, Asia and the Pacific. For this reason, the collection represents a case study to examine global and colonial collecting at the beginning of the twentieth century, and how contemporary exhibitions fostered a European imperial culture.

‘Global Leicester’ seeks to generate substantial new research to explore what the Dryad Collection reveals about the linkages between Leicester and Empire, and about changing understandings of Empire over the twentieth century. I am exploring why and how the collector Harry Peach gathered specific objects, investigating their provenance and manufacture, finding out how the objects travelled to Leicester, and exploring what their past curation and display can reveal about changing post-colonial environments and relationships.

The project will contribute to three key areas of historical enquiry. First, it will offer a new material history of the British Empire, through analysis of a little-known but voluminous and important national collection of imperial objects. Second, it will offer a means of changing current meanings and interpretations of the Dryad objects, by foregrounding the history of empire in their development and interpretation. Third, it will build on and contribute to the dynamic field of global material culture history and histories of imperial collecting and display by tracking a diverse and understudied collection through its hitherto unused set of archives in UK and abroad.

As part of my research, I am working with the conservation department of Leicester Museum and Art Gallery in order to understand the rationale behind the collection. New insights will bring a different perspective on the use and interpretation of the Dryad objects today, encouraging good practice based on the history of the collection, and considering matters of mission and cultural value within the institution. The aim is to give new light and life to the objects, which are kept in storage and not exhibited in the gallery space. The final outcome will be not only the thesis, but also an exhibition on – and with – the Dryad collection, emphasizing aspects related to the global and imperial context in local collecting.

I am currently running an object-focused blog with stories about the Dryad collection www.leicestermuseums.org/news/dryad-collection-introduction  

Research Area

  • History


11/12/2020: 'Harry Peach: Life and Legacy'

25/08/2020: 'The University of Leicester Sikh Manuscript in 3D'

Public Engagement & Impact

Research at the conservation department of Leicester Museum and Art Gallery

Research volunteer for the University of Leicester Heritage Project 'So That They May Have Life'

Other Research Interests

Missionary exhibitions and international expositions

Social history of art

Material culture of colonial encounter

Museum studies and practice

European imperial culture

Imperial collecting and display

Object-based learning

Subaltern studies


ICOM UK - International Council of Museums member 

Paul Mellon Centre Doctoral Researchers Network member

UCU - University and College Union member

University of Leicester Global, Colonial and Postcolonial Research Cluster 

University of Leicester New History Lab

Academic Qualifications

2018-2019: MA 'Art Museum and Gallery Studies' - University of Leicester (Distinction).

2013-2016: MA 'Art History' - Ca' Foscari, University of Venice (110/110).

2009-2013: BA 'Art History and Conservation of Cultural Heritage' - Roma Tre University (107/110).

Scholarships and Prizes

College of Social Sciences, Arts and Humanities Masters Excellence Scholarship.