More of the British Museum
April 1, 2012 5 Comments
By Rob Packer
The British Museum is one of my favourite places in London and I’ve written about it before here. As I was looking through the photos to put on this blog, I started thinking about the advantages of growing up in a city with such a wide swathe of world history at hand—the BBC’s excellent History in the World in a Hundred Objects to see how wide it really is. At the same time, the museum’s history reawakens memories of European colonialism’s ambiguous legacy and the can of worms of restitution. The image of foreigners carting off a nation’s history is an unpleasant form of expropriation (the Parthenon Marbles is just the most famous example) and restitution would be a fillip both for national pride and the tourism industry. At the same time, the argument that such and such cultural artefact has been better preserved in this or that museum might actually be true in some cases, but it sounds self-serving and overly simplistic to apply it to the entire collection, resting as it does on counterfactuals. After all, we often have no way of proving that monument X would have survived if piece Y had survived in situ.
But these arguments all fail to see the biggest advantage of the Louvre or Met, British or Pergamum Museums: their educational value. My very awareness of world history began at the British Museum and I’m not exaggerating to say that my life would have taken a different course without so much so close and tangible. And my own view* is that artefacts like this should be more spread out, not less, so that everyone has a grounding in the sheer interconnectedness of world history and cultures.
*Of course this view is unrealistic, idealistic, plays badly with any remotely patriotic government and these museums can hardly be said to have had an effect on 19th and 20th century world history. All the same, it’s nice to dream about Mayan figurines in Shanghai and Assyrian friezes in São Paulo.