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e-portfolio of Fleur Martin

Research overview

I am a scholar of nineteenth century imperialism, supervised by Professor David Anderson. My thesis, Looting, Trade & The Gift: Imperial Collecting in Eastern Africa 1860-1914, examines the history of why and how imperial travellers collected in Eastern Africa between 1860-1914, through three central transnational case studies: the James brothers’ travels and collection at West Dean (UK), the Sámuel Teleki & Ludwig von Höhnel expedition and collections in Hungary & Austria, and the Vittorio Bottego expeditions and collections in Italy. All three contain material cultural heritage, ‘scientific specimens’ and hunting ‘trophies’ as well as photographs and drawings. They were taken from places known today as Sudan, South Sudan, Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Tanzania and Kenya. The Jameses have never been systematically studied, Teleki & von Höhnel have been constructed as successful (if brutal) geographical discoverers, whilst Bottego is historicised as a patriotic, tragic hero of 'exploration'.

The collecting aspect of these travellers has previously been marginalised, but with the critical interrogation of the contents of museums becoming widespread, the violent and imperial context of such journeys demands scholarly attention. The case studies in my thesis each have intrinsic characteristics that are historically significant in Eastern Africa, yet they are contrasting examples of patriotism, banality, violence, infamy, discovery, wealth and memorialisation. The cases represent a wider genre of European imperial activity that has only recently come to be considered as a particular type. The looting, trading and gifting of material culture is the shared imperial legacy of such ‘explorations’, and the violence and domination that accompanied such exchanges remains a fundamental implication of the manner in which museums display and account for this history. There is a variety of acquisition practices at play in these collections, and through reading against the archival grain in studying the trade of material culture between Africans and Europeans, pre-colonial relations can be traced, decentering Europeans from the narrative of collections.

This material culture methodology focuses on the objects brought to Eastern Africa: beads, cloth and wire, and the everyday objects, particularly those belonging to women, taken to Europe for the case studies collections. A study of the presence and role of women on trade and collecting journeys, as buyers, sellers, negotiators, interpreters, and the often violently sexualised position in which they were held, can critique and illuminate understandings of the gendered nature of violence at the heart of these imperial journeys. By drawing connections between collecting, gender and violence, I aim to recontextualise the history surrounding imperial collecting in Eastern Africa from 1860-1914, while contributing to the growing body of revisionist and critical writing on representations of empire and the violence that created and sustained it.

My broader interests include nineteenth century global trade relations and materialities, domestic and intimate material culture, folklore, dance music cultures, anthropology, imperial sexual relations and violence, and Italian history.


I received my BA in Anthropology at Goldsmiths, University of London, and studied Global Ethics in the Dickson Poon School of Law at King’s College London, before completing an MA in Anthropology & Museum Practice at Goldsmiths. Prior to my PhD I worked in sector support for the arts and at the British Library, researching public libraries.


  • 2020- | Ph.D. History, University of Warwick. Fully funded by CADRE Scholarship, completion due March 2024.
  • 2018-2019 | M.A. Anthropology & Museum Practice, Goldsmiths, University of London.
  • 2011-2015 | B.A. Anthropology, Goldsmiths, University of London.

Presentations and Papers

  • 'Scarcity and Accumulation: Teleki's Caravan at Lake Baringo' for Symbols in Action at 40: Baringo and Beyond Conference, McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, University of Cambridge, 23rd September 2022.
  • 'Silent Heritage: Ruxton's Nigeria Collection at the Horniman Museum' for Warwick History Postgraduate Conference, 26th May 2022.
  • 'The Common Thread Behind West Dean's Collections and Its Implications' for 'Trade' session of Culture Things Empire seminar series, 27th April 2022.
  • 'The James Collection: Connecting Sussex with Somalia and Sudan Through Thefts of Cooking Pots and Gifts of Cloth', blog for Global History and Culture Centre, University of Warwick.
  • 'Restitution of Objects in Museums' with Nathalie Cooper & Mark Knights, for Now and Then, Warwick History seminar series, 23rd February 2022.
  • 'The James Collection: Connecting Sussex with Somalia and Sudan Through Thefts of Cooking Pots and Gifts of Cloth', for British Institute in Eastern Africa Annual Conference, 24th November 2021.


  • HI153: Making of the Modern World, 2022-23.