World Cultures is our name given to traditional communities who live outside the European continent; namely the continents of Africa, the Americas, Asia and the islands of the Pacific Ocean. Items relating to these cultures were mostly acquired in the 19th century as souvenirs and gifts by those individuals who had served abroad as British soldiers, colonial administrators, traders, missionaries, explorers, travellers and private collectors. Such items therefore represent moments in time.

Many donors were born in Exeter or other parts of Devon, many certainly had links with the city, however, a number of donors actually gave their collections to the museum after they had relocated to Devon for their retirement. Although this collections highlights the connection Devon and Exeter has with the rest of the world the World Cultures collection does not reflect Exeter’s migrant communities today.

The Curator of Ethnography is responsible for the care of these collections. Ethnography was one of the many new sciences that developed in the 19th century and relates to the scientific description of the customs of peoples and cultures via the method of participant observation. Museum ethnography is a branch of anthropology.