The Living Cultures collection consists of around 18,000 objects from Africa, the Americas, Asia the Middle East and Oceania.
The foundation of the Living Cultures collection was laid in the early 20th century by solicitor and trustee of Owens College R.D. Darbishire (1826-1908). He did not travel to acquire his collection of American objects but purchased it within the UK. In 1922 he donated 92 ancient pots from Peru and 112 objects from the Arctic. In total he donated over 700 objects. Darbishire’s donations encouraged other local collectors such as Rochdale landowner and industrialist Charles Heape to do the same. In 1922 Heape donated 2,820 objects mainly from Oceania and North America.
In 1927 an extension was built to display parts of this rapidly growing collection for the very first time. Then in 2002 another extension allowed more of the collection to be displayed. In 2020 a further extension will be added and the focus of which will be South Asia.
The collections and archive are used for a range of teaching, research and outreach activities.