Dickinson College Humanities Program in Norwich

Applying some more Museum Studies theory

September 2, 2009 · No Comments

I had already been in the British Museum. This time however, I went in very aware that I was walking into a “universal survey museum”. In my Museum Studies class, I read an extremely interesting article by Alan Wallach and Carol Duncan (1980). These neo-marxists authors analyze particularly the Louvre Museum in Paris. Universal survey museums such as the Louvre or the British Museum, have become icons of the cities in which they are located. The author’s thesis is that these museums are the “secular temples” of present day. Museums render cult to knowledge. They represent rationalism and enlightenment. These Museums themselves are built as if they were Greek temples. The British Museum has barely anything British in it. Its collection is one of the biggest universal surveys in the world in that it contains the most valued items of different civilizations. What best example of rationalism than the Rosetta Stone, the icon of literacy, to understand the importance of this museum?

Furthermore, paying a visit to the British Museum is almost a touristic ritual nowadays. I carefully observed this ritual as I sat down on the bench inside the amazing and very impressive main hall. First, the tourists go inside and look in wonder at the magnitude of the main floor. Then, they get a brochure at information desk which is easy to access. Their first “must see”, from hearing to their conversations, is the Rosetta stone. 

While the tourists -and I- are inside, we look at the objects, maybe not knowing so much what they are or why they are important, but feeling a sense of importance to the whole experience. This again, is part of the ritual. And looking at rituals from an anthropological point of view, we must look at them as “in between” moments, from one state of being, such as being ignorant, to another, being enlightened. We look at paintings in the National Gallery, sculptures at the Victoria and Albert Museum, the graves in Westminster Abbey, as if we were having a dialogue with those ancestors who lived so many years ago. When we leave, or at least when I leave, I wonder, do I feel more enlightened? In my case, I know most of the times I learn much more from looking at people that are just looking at something else.

Categories: Azul · Uncategorized

0 responses so far ↓

  • There are no comments yet...Kick things off by filling out the form below..

You must log in to post a comment.