Dickinson College Humanities Program in Norwich

Entries Tagged as '2010 MatthewM'

London’s Imperialist Museums

September 7th, 2010 · 4 Comments

While visiting the museums of London over the last two weeks, I’ve noticed that several of them seem to have only been opened for the purpose of showing off how powerful the British Empire was at its height.  This is especially pronounced at the British Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum.  While I’m normally not much of a fan of imperialism, or any act of a bigger country dominating a little country, both of these museums have made me start to appreciate British Imperialism much more.

Let’s start with the British Museum.  The British Museum may be seen by outsiders as a huge building filled with artifacts that the British stole from all the places they conquered.  This isn’t completely true… Some of the pieces were stolen from countries that were never part of the Empire.  In fact, there have been high-profile claims on British Museum artifacts from countries on four of the seven continents.  The most notable claims are on the Rosetta Stone (which is their coolest artifact, in my opinion) and the Elgin Marbles, which are parts of the Athenian Parthenon.  Luckily for London tourists, in 1963, Parliament passed the British Museum Act of 1963, which prevents any object from leaving the museum’s collection once it has entered it.  This allows the British Museum to continue to be a concentration point for really cool artifacts, like original Roman letters, the Rosetta Stone, and parts of many ancient structures.  On the flip side, I understand why countries would want their artifacts back.  It’s their history, and it makes sense that they want it back.  However, from my point of view as a visitor to London, I’d much rather walk 2 minutes from the Arran House to see the Rosetta Stone than have to fly the whole way to Egypt.

From what I’ve seen of it, The Victoria and Albert Museum isn’t quite so overwhelmingly imperialistic, though that might be because I wasn’t able to visit the international sections of it (yet).  From what I have seen, a lot of the materials was donated or otherwise given to the museum, as opposed to the British Museum’s acquisition by domination feel.  All the same, the V&A made me feel like it was trying to show me how awesome England was in its heyday, and was probably first started to glorify the power of the Empire. Now, it serves as the world’s largest decorative arts and design museum, covering varieties of art like glass, ceramics, metalwork, stained glass, theatre and performance, along with sections on Victorian English home furnishings and more “traditional” pieces like paintings and sculpture from ancient through modern times.  Even now, it is a very daunting place (I only got lost two or three times), but at the same time, it is a very fun place.  Where else in the world can you see an Apple computer and a 1980’s Save the Miners mug on display in the same museum as priceless jewelry from centuries ago and costumes from the musical version of The Lion King?

Tags: 2010 MatthewM · Museums

Holy Telephonic Crustaceans, Batman!!

September 4th, 2010 · 1 Comment

While normally not a fan of modern art, I nonetheless visited the Tate Modern today, and had a pretty good time.  Converted from the former Bankside Power Station in the late 1990’s, at the same time several other attractions opened on the South Bank (including the new Globe Theatre and the Millennium Bridge), the museum features international modern art from such artists as Andy Warhol and Salvador Dali.  It’s the inclusion of one of Dali’s works, Lobster Telephone, in the museum’s collection that particularly interested me, because of its, um… unique… style.  For those not familiar with Dali’s work, he was a very well-known surrealist, and this work, in which he placed a lobster on top of an old style telephone and took a picture of it, does not disappoint.


Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to locate the work in the museum, though it was featured in the museum’s movie on the fifth floor, and is definitely in the museum’s collection.  I’m really not sure what draws me to this work, but it might be its combination of simplicity and randomness.  The first time I saw it, I almost laughed because it was so unexpected.  I was disappointed that I couldn’t find it, but it didn’t ruin my two hours at the museum, which I would recommend to anyone traveling to London.

Tags: 2010 MatthewM · Uncategorized

The National Portrait Gallery: A Homogenous Art Experience

September 3rd, 2010 · 1 Comment

Today, we visited the National Portrait Gallery, which should be called the Rich White Male Portrait Gallery.  Generally all of the paintings were of white guys well into the Gallery’s 20th Century portions, with the exception of any female monarch.  Starting in the 1950’s or so, there were a few more token minorities and/or females throughout the remaining small portion of the museum.  In my opinion, this lack of diversity is completely unacceptable for a vastly multicultural city like London.  While wandering around the illogically designed museum (during which I frequently was forced to cross over my own path just to see the paintings in chronological order), I came across several paintings that caught my eye.  The most notable of these is a portrait of Oliver Cromwell that was painted by Robert Walker circa 1649.  As a political science major, I was drawn to this painting not so much for its artistic value (though it is a nice-looking painting) as for its sitter’s political accomplishments.


Cromwell is best known for serving as Lord Protector after the dissolution of the Monarchy at the end of the English Civil War.  Fighting for the Parliamentary forces, he played a large part in Britain becoming a republic as opposed to the monarchic structure it had used for hundreds of years.  This period of British history motivated several of the greatest philosophers of all time to venture into the world of politics, meanwhile formulating the basic ideas that have influenced every democratic government since.  The likes of Thomas Hobbes and John Locke (both featured with Cromwell in the National Portrait Gallery), released these ideas in Leviathan and The Treatises of Government, respectively.  Though they are often thought of as very similar, Hobbes and Locke were on opposite sides of the Monarchy (Hobbes) v. Parliament (Locke) war.  Their ideas on the legitimacy of government (mostly related to the idea of social contract theory) serve as the cornerstone to the American system of government, which has in turn served as a template for governments all over the world.  It’s clear that the victory by Parliamentary forces, led by Mr. Cromwell, in the English Civil War set the stage for one of the largest global political changes in the world’s history, which is why both the period and the man are so interesting to me.

Tags: 2010 MatthewM

Victoria Offline

August 28th, 2010 · 11 Comments

Our morning started out great: a nice breakfast, an exciting market to explore, and a seemingly easy route to the Walthamstow market. Upon arriving at the Warren St station, we discovered that the Victoria line, crucial to arrive at Walthamstow market, was closed for engineering. We had been warned that we might want to check to see if all of the lines were working as usual over the weekend… However, we all took that as a “make sure you know where you are going” warning rather than a “look up the closed lines online before you leave” instruction. Oops. Once we figured out how to get to Walthamstow (Central line to Liverpool Street Station to catch the National Rail up to Walthamstow Central), it was a breeze. An hour’s worth of breeze, in fact. Once there, we quickly located the market, which was about a block away from the station.

Our destination, Walthamstow market, had a wonderful selection of fruits, vegetables, clothes, pots and pans, handbags, toys, lace, material, and other random items- all very reasonably priced. People arrived with empty bags with wheels to carry their shopping home. (One lady complained to a friend that she had bought too much and her husband was going to fuss at her.)

It was a very demographically diverse area, we saw people from various countries in Africa, Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and India. In the couple of hours we were there, we heard at least ten different languages. The vendors themselves were predominantly English or from the Middle East. When walking around the community, we noticed a multicultural center, giving us the impression that the community was aware of its diversity and more than likely sought a way to embrace it. Around the market were more specialized stores, which included fabric stores, grocery stores, candy stores, a Pound Power store (everything was a pound; equivalent to the American 99₵ store), and most importantly, a variety of cultural restaurants.

On our way back to the Arran House, we decided to be just a bit more touristy and take a double-decker bus to see more of the area and London itself. Seemingly great idea, but like this morning, it became a hugely complicated decision by a number of factors. Firstly, we weren’t sure what route to take because we were unsure of where in England they would take us. Secondly, when we did decide what route would be the easiest, we were unaware that the bus station we were at contained two other platforms; therefore we assumed the bus that would be the easiest to get back to the house did not stop where we were. After waiting for an alternate bus, only to watch it get full and drive off, we discovered our original bus did stop there- just further up the street! We ended up taking the 48 bus to Liverpool St station, catching the Central Line to Tottenham Court Rd and transferring to the Northern Line to Goodge St. Can you say HOME SWEET HOME?

For more info: http://www.walthamforest.gov.uk/index/environment/walthamstow-market.htm

[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/nvHDEVwQrjY" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]
Video on YouTube

Tags: 2010 Jamie · 2010 MatthewM · 2010 Stephenie

Camden Town: London

August 26th, 2010 · 5 Comments

Our adventure through London commenced with a magical trek from Arran House to Euston St. where we crossed the scariest intersection ever, and got onto the Underground at the Warren Street Station. We passed several colleges on the short walk there. Upon entering the Tube, we were nearly stampeded by what we assumed was a mass of English people fleeing Godzilla, but apparently it was just the normal speed people walk on the left side of the playbill decorated escalator (only the right side is for standing). On the approximately 10 minute ride, we noticed a lot of traditional religious dress, including Jewish men wearing yarmulkes and Muslim women wearing head scarves. This manner of dress was replaced in a dramatic way upon our exit from the station onto main street of Camden Town, part of the Borough of Camden in northwest London, by another form of culturally-influenced dress.  The downtown area was filled with many aspects of thriving goth and punk sub-cultures. Tattoo parlors advertised themselves with what looked like controversial picket signs, reflecting a style rooted in subversive movements. Punk and alternative clothing outlets (some with plastic mannequin legs covered in ripped tights in place of awnings), independent record sales on corners, and many, many piercings filled every inch of the street (We received 4 piercing pamphlets within 5 minutes of arriving). Dreadlocks and mohawks ruled the day. This was very much in keeping with the spirit of Camden Town, though not in regards to its original namesake, the 1st Earl Camden, but rather by the integral part it played (and continues to play) in the development of the goth, punk, and underground music sub-cultures.
In addition to still being a gathering place for rebellious youth, Camden Town also features a huge variety of ethnic cuisine in fast food or market formats.  The Camden Town Market appears to be an eccentric, large, and broad conglomeration of peoples and things from throughout the world.  Throughout the Market, there were large bronze statues of lions in a Sphinx-like pose, an image that was repeated in all of the Market’s advertising.  These figures’ effect on the population was amusing to behold as tough teens went over to pose with the statues, which represent the area that reflects their anti-conformist natures.  Unfortunately, when we were preparing to take a picture of one of the monuments, we were caught in heavy rain which might have damaged the camera, and turned our return trip to the Arran House into a much less pleasant and enjoyable endeavor, as we had arranged our Tube departure to allow us to walk most of the way home, through Bloomsbury via Camden Town to Tottenham Court Road, where we changed direction and took Bloomsbury Street until it became our own Gower Street. On a brighter note, we did get to see some of those awesome Harry Potter-esque double decker buses.

Tags: 2010 Elizabeth · 2010 Jesse · 2010 MatthewM