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The Brenchley Project

He fell inside an active volcano, was shot in the neck with an arrow, dressed as a miner to avoid attack in the American West, became friends with the King of Hawaii, and travelled to 6 continents but still Julius Brenchley remains a relatively unknown English explorer.

Born in 1816 near Maidstone, he travelled extensively for forty years leading up to his death in 1873.

The items he collected started to go on display at Maidstone Museum from 1867 but only a fraction of the items are on public display.

The American Studies programme has been working with the Maidstone Museum to create a virtual museum that showcases over two hundred pieces that Brenchley brought back from his encounters with a number of indigenous nations along the Pacific Northwest coast and Hawaii.

Whilst Julius Brenchley is himself a fascinating and relatively little known figure, the time at which the collection started to be displayed in Britain was critical as through the artifacts and the historical context it’s possible to discuss the way in which American Indians and the American (Wild) West were represented, how they were perceived and how this reinforced or challenged popular stereotypes of the time.

The collection continues to be useful as it engages students and the wider public with a broad range of topics and issues from how stereotypes are formed (and maintained through popular culture) to the motivations of Brenchley as a Victorian ‘gentleman explorer’ and collector, and from the ethics of repatriating spiritually important artifacts and human remains to the role of museums in education.

Visit the digital archive.

At CCCU, the Brenchley project has been integrated into the American Studies first year degree programme to encourage students to act as researchers on the various angles that the project generates. Our students have the freedom to produce work related to any aspect of the Brenchley project and to submit it as part of their course.

Local impact is being generated in a number of ways. The website has pages aimed at primary and secondary schools that introduce some of the topics and issues in an accessible way. Events, such as a Brenchley explorer’s day, have been hosted at Maidstone Museum. A number of local schools have been contacted and a series of talks and visits have been planned for the upcoming year.

Wider impact is being developed through contact with tribal groups in the US and Canada to open discussions about artifacts and how American Indian history is taught in the US and the UK. Schools and colleges in the US (including tribal colleges) have also been contacted with a view to establishing e-pal schemes with Kent schools to explore issues such as culture and national identity.

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Last edited: 29/06/2016 06:04:00