Dickinson College Humanities Program in Norwich

Late Thoughts on the BM and Ownership

September 21, 2010 · 1 Comment

I’ve tried to keep my eyes and mind open in London, and I think in a lot of ways, I’ve succeeded. There have been a lot of experiences that wouldn’t have necessarily been my first choice, but afterwards I was glad I got involved in. Now that that’s out of the way, my inner fourth grader would like to make the following announcement: I don’t like museums. Never have. It would be pointless to try to present an argument justifying this, but I start out with it so the reader can understand the glasses through which I’ve viewed museums over the last four weeks.
The most striking feature of the British Museum has been the totally unearned and insane sense of ownership of foreign objects, particularly Elgin’s Marbles. When you go into the main exhibit containing the Marbles, here’s the first thing you see:

personal photo

Here’s an answer key, I can save you five minutes that would have otherwise been spent reading that absurd leaflet.
Because the British Museum stole them!
Lord Elgin stole them and then ran out of money and sold them to the BM!
In England!
The Parthenon sculptures back, because you stole them!

Actually, that’s the second most striking feature of the BM. Despite my previously whiny comments about museums, I couldn’t help but be totally blown away by some of the objects. Within ten minutes, you could see arguably the most famous object in history (the Rosetta Stone) and the most famous human body in history (the Lindow Man). Unbelievable.

Back to the question of ownership, though. One of the prompts for this blog entry is “What does it tell you about Britain?” Every time that I’ve seen something that seemed out of the ordinary, I’ve tried to remember to ask myself “Is that different because it’s British, or is it different for a totally separate reason?” With the Elgin Marbles, I instantly attributed the hubris of that situation to Britishness. But the same exact problem exists in a Berlin museum (you have to go to the second page of that story), among others. And I guess if I learned from museums that I can’t automatically blame the Brits for being Brits, then I learned a lot.

Categories: 2010 Dennis

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