World Cultures

The World Cultures collection at Bristol Museums includes material from the Americas, Africa and the Pacific.

There are about 10,000 objects ranging from tiny pottery beads to full-size native American canoes, from huge bark-cloth masks from Papua New Guinea to a ball of string from the Congo. There are painted coats from Canada, a quilted horse armour from Nigeria and initiation costumes from South Africa.

In museums in the U.K. World Cultures collections are usually made up of the material culture (everyday things) of people from countries around the world. They generally focus on cultures outside of Europe. However, at Bristol Museum & Art Gallery most of the collections from Asia are looked after in a different department.

The collection reflects domestic life (such as cooking equipment & furniture), work (e.g. agricultural tools & weaving equipment), technology (such as metal-working tools), ritual (power figures, masks & medicine), and the different stages of life, from baby carriers to toys to funerary masks. We also have a very important collection of paintings made at ancient sites in Mexico by Miss Adela Breton, a Victorian traveller, archaeologist and artist.

In previous decades the collection was known as the Ethnography collection. Ethnography is a branch of anthropology that studies individual cultures. Our database still contains references to this way of classifying objects. This title, along with, in some circumstances other words and references that may now be seen as outdated or even offensive, still remain. We are working to update this documentation that reflects the colonial background and attitudes that were common during the period these collections were initially made.

Browse the World Cultures collection