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Maria Chiara Scuderi

History, University of Leicester

Thesis title:

Global Leicester: The Dryad Craftwork Collection at New Walk Museum and Art Gallery

My practical-based PhD illuminates the objects and archives of Leicester Museum and Art Gallery’s Dryad craftwork collection, by exploring its history with a global perspective. The collection was gathered by Harry Peach between 1907 and 1936, and comprises extraordinary diverse material culture, ranging from fabrics and clothing to basketwork, wooden figures, puppets, toys, gourds, and coconuts. Peach was interested in the Arts & Crafts movement, and sourced his collection from Britain and Europe, as well as British colonies in Australia, Africa, South Asia, the Pacific, and Malaysia. He planned to use it to found a new museum, but this never happened and the collection was donated to New Walk Museum (now Leicester Museum and Art Gallery) in 1969. Since then, it has been curated in a range of ways, most recently as part of the ‘World Galley’.

‘Global Leicester’ seeks to generate substantial new research to explore what the Dryad collection reveals about the linkages between Leicester and its global and imperial context, and about changing understandings of the Empire over the twentieth century. I explore why and how Peach collected specific objects; investigate their provenance, manufacture, and how they travelled to Leicester; and analyse what their past curation and display (since the 1970s) can reveal about changing post-colonial environments and relationships.

The project explores three key areas of historical enquiry related to global and colonial collection and collecting:

1- it offers a new material history of the British Empire, through analysis of a little-known but voluminous national collection of imperial objects. 

2- it offers a means of changing current meanings and interpretations of the Dryad objects, by foregrounding the history of Empire in their development and interpretation. Particularly, how this interpretation changed when the collection went from being private to public in a local authority museum, and therefore its history of display in the post-colonial period.

3- it builds on and contributes 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. 

Research through practice is crucial for me as I care about the consequences of my studies in the civil society. Within this project, I collaborate with the conservation department and the documentation officer at Leicester Museum and Art Gallery. The objective is to give new light and life to the Dryad objects, which are currently mainly kept in storage, encouraging good practices based on the history of the collection, and considering matters of mission and cultural value within the institution. The reinstalation of the ‘World Gallery’ with an exhibition on – and with – the Dryad collection will be the final outcome of this project.

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

Other Research Interests

Missionary exhibitions (20th century)

International exhibitions (between 19th and 20th century)

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


UCU - University and College Union member (since 2021)

University of Leicester Global, Colonial and Postcolonial Research Cluster (since 2020).

University of Leicester New History Lab (since 2020).

ICOM UK - International Council of Museums member (2018-present).

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.