By Mobeen Hussain (@amhuss27)
As a colonial officer in India, it was paramount that one knew what to expect and how to prepare for the sweltering climate. The mid to late nineteenth century saw a surge of advice books and manuals, mainly written by men, for families voyaging to the Subcontinent. One such book was entitled Real Life in India, embracing a view of the requirements of individuals appointed to any branch of the Indian Public Service (1847) by ‘An Old Resident’ which detailed precise lists of items required, ranging from home furnishings and hygiene products to clothes and ladies’ equipment for the ship. This list included white cotton stockings, white silk dittos, white muslin clothing and white nightdresses alongside soap, perfume and toothpowder. The emphasis on white represented the colonial preoccupation with purity, propriety and health in a climate that was perceived to be exotic, degenerating and dangerous, especially for women. Many of the items listed also attempted to transport and replicate the perfect English home from the metropole to the colony and such manuals were aimed at middle-class women, in particular, who would be able to afford to hire a host of ‘native’ servants (a departure from their lives in England). Resources from the colonies also enabled a more diverse consumer culture to flourish in the metropole, one that allowed a housewife to purchase branded ‘Windsor’ soap and choose from a variety of other cosmetic products sold by local producers and international companies.
Image: By an old resident, Real life in India, embracing a view of the requirements of individuals appointed to any branch of the Indian public service; the methods of proceeding to India; and the course of life in different parts of the country, London: Houlston and Stoneman (1847), Wellcome Collection, London, pp.145-146.
By Maggie Kalenak
Either encased under glass in brooches, lockets and hair accessories or woven with wire to create three-dimensional ornaments and chains, the use of hair in sentimental jewellery was a fixture of British fashion from the 17th century through the end of the 19th, reaching its height in popularity between 1810 and 1850. Representing the Romantic fashion for the sentimental, in 1854 Wilkie Collins wrote that hair jewellery, was, “in England, one of the commonest ornaments of women’s wear.” Hair, especially women’s hair, was largely fetishised and commoditised in the 19th century. Being worth its weight in silver for most of the century, hair was an outward symbol of class, gender, taste and sensuality. The exchange of hair between lovers, friends and family members represented the most intimate of relationships. The wearing of hair became an expression of love and being loved. Hair was used in both romantic jewellery (exchanged between sweethearts) and mourning jewellery which would be created from the hair of the dead and worn by friends and family in remembrance. An iconic example— after the death of Prince Albert in 1839, Queen Victoria was never again without a lock of her beloved’s hair on her person. The creation of hair jewellery was both a skill worked by women in their homes and also, by the mid-19th century, a commercial industry.
Image: Photograph by Maggie Kalenak
 Wilkie Collins, Hide and Seek (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), 256. First published in 1854.
By Alice Procter (@aaprocter) and Mobeen Hussain (@amhuss27)
Alice Procter is a historian of material culture based at UCL. She has six years of tour guiding experience at heritage sites and galleries and runs Uncomfortable Art Tours, podcasts and writes under the umbrella of The Exhibitionist. I had the chance to interview you her about her work and to discuss how her tours fit into wider critiques of national history, spaces and narratives.
By Jeremiah J. Garsha (@jjgarsha)
In 1898, Chief Mkwawa committed suicide after leading a seven-year revolt against German rule. His head was severed to claim a bounty, and then displayed as ‘a family trophy’ in the home of a British-born German colonial administrator. It was then defleshed and the skull was shipped to Germany, where it entered into the entangled streams of skulls collected across the German empire to support the creation of racial sciences. Shortly before the First World War, Mkwawa’s skull disappeared into a museum, university, or hospital archive. After the war, British plenipotentiaries inserted a clause into the Treaty of Versailles calling for a return of ‘the skull of the Sultan Mkwawa’. This article was in the ‘special provisions’ section detailing ‘historical souvenirs or works of art’, where Chief Mkwawa was orientalised as a Muslim ruler and his skull ornamentalised, becoming what the German-born British statesman Viscount Milner playfully called ‘a craniological curiosity’. Throughout the 1920s and early 1930s, the British continued to press Germany to hand over Mkwawa’s head, repeatedly being told that the skull was lost. In 1954, the Bremen museum director contacted the British to inform them that skulls taken from East Africa had been located as the museum’s holdings and were recatalogued following their storage in salt mines during the Second World War. Sir Edward Twining, Governor of Tanganyika, personally flew to Bremen and, using the head measurements of Mkwawa’s descendants, identified Mkwawa’s skull and had it sent back to the colony. The skull was handed over to Mkwawa’s grandson during a recruitment ceremony to enlist colonial soldiers to fight in the Mau Mau emergency across the border. It was then transported to a Mausoleum-Museum where it still sits on display today, owned by the Tanzanian government and yours to view for the price of admission.
Image: Skull of Mkwawa, made available under a public domain licence.
By Alasdair Chi
The Singapore Stone, as a stele or shards, remains the longest-enduring extant proof of Singapore’s antiquity. Erected by the mouth of the Singapore River by the 13th century, and possibly even earlier, its 52 lines may have recorded the dealings of some great empire or monarch, or perhaps a more prosaic statement of authority.
By Zoe Farrell (@zoeffarrell)
In an age before electrical lighting, in cramped cities with few sources of natural light, mirrors acted as a tool to bring light into homes. They were also decorative, placed alongside paintings to accentuate the splendour of ordinary domestic environments. Venice, and particularly Murano, became the centre of European mirror production during the Renaissance, with Venetian mirrors earning their fame both for their technical innovation and their beauty.
By George Severs (@GeorgeSevers10)
On World AIDS Day, 30 years after its establishment as a global health event to commemorate those who have died from AIDS-related illnesses, today’s calendar post looks at how objects were produced as a tool of this commemoration. Perhaps the best known ‘AIDS object’ is the Names Project AIDS Memorial Quilt. Conceived of in 1985 by San Franciscan activist Cleve Jones, in 1988 the nearly 8,300 quilt panels memorialising individuals who had died of HIV/AIDS, was displayed outside the White House in protest of the government’s slow response to the epidemic.