Dickinson College Humanities Program in Norwich

How British are the British Museum and the National Gallery?

August 25th, 2009 · 4 Comments

St. Martin in the Fields

St. Martin in the Fields

I’ll start by saying what a thrill it was to go to St. Martin
in the Fields today. As a classical music fan, I’ve long admired the recordings of Sir Neville Marriner and the Academy of St. Martin in the fields. 18 Handel_ Water Music Suite #1 In F Hopefully, that is the Air from the Water Music Suite #1 in F by Handel, recorded at St. Martin in the Fields. I enjoyed the trio today, but especially relished the chance to take in the space where the Academy plays.

On another note, I’ve enjoyed (despite being overwhelmed by) both the British Museum and the National Gallery in the last two days. Even though Henry and I only got to see the Egyptian statues before the British Museum closed yesterday, we were in awe of the sheer scope and grandeur of the place. We had a similar feeling at the National Gallery today.

This leads me to the chief irony of both of these museums, namely that neither is all that ostensibly British. The British museum has a section for nearly every part of the world, while the National Gallery is dependent mainly on work by mainland European artists. What makes these museums British then? I’ve been slowly coming to the conclusion that Britain (both in the empire era and even today) has thought itself something of an arbiter of all world culture. Our Burton reading yesterday mentioned that the visitors from India in the 19th century approved of the British Museum’s India section, all but saying one need not go to India but rather London to understand Indian culture. Similarly, today I saw French and Italian tourists in London today admiring Pissaro and Titian at the National Gallery.

This British “arbiter of all world culture” role, if it indeed does exist, is a very powerful role that is potentially also very problematic. Certainly it is convenient for a traveler or student to have all of this in one city. However, some time ago, I heard about a nation (I believe it was Egypt) demanding a few of its artifacts back from the British Museum. Besides being a tricky legal issue, I feel this says a lot about the power dynamic between Britain and the rest of the world which has come about both as a result of colonialism and the powerful role Britain has had in relation to most of the world since WWII. For some reason it just seems natural and unproblematic to us in the west that the Rosetta Stone should be permanently in London, because we perhaps have subconsciously come to believe that the British have a natural right to something with such value to civilization, without thinking critically about who actually created and contributed to that artifact.


Thoughts on this “arbiter” theory or what it could mean (presuming its reasonable)?

Tags: Aidan

English/British History in Greenwich

August 21st, 2009 · 1 Comment

Since I think everyone seemed to enjoy the same things about the first half of today, I thought I’d talk about what I did after we left lunch. Brandon, Grace, Henry and I went to the National Maritime Museum (as did a few others, I believe). It was a fairly big museum with a great variety of exhibits.
Among them was an exhibit on the Atlantic in British maritime history, which covered the slave trade and the American colonies, among other things. Another was on art with British ships and naval battles as its subject. A third was on passenger ships since the early twentieth century which, though undeniably is a part of British maritime history, was less interesting to me. The most important thing I noticed about the museum was how almost all of its patrons were British and not tourists, which was nice to see. I wonder if this is because Brits like to look back upon the naval and trade prowess of their past, despite its negative connotations of war and colonialism, as something unique to Britain and something to be proud of still today.
We then visited, as well as others did I’m sure, the Painted Hall and the Chapel. The Painted Hall, which commemorates and glorifies William and Mary’s 1689 ascension to the throne, was evocative of the Christopher Wren/Isaac Newton/Early Georgian era we’d been seeing bits and pieces of all day. The Painted Hall has grandeur, beauty, innovative architecture, represents England’s growing financial and political power, and throws in some anti-Catholic propaganda, too.
The Naval Chapel was not nearly as ornate and boastful, but was still beautiful. It’s a reminder of the centrality of the Navy in British life, and of the gratitude the British have had and continue to have for those who’ve served their country.

Tags: Aidan

Notting Hill Gate

August 21st, 2009 · No Comments

Our stop was Notting Hill Gate, a posh residential area in the Borough of Kensington and Chelsea.The neighborhood seemed affordable and busy enough on first glance, but a turn onto a side street revealed nothing but lovely and large flats in a quiet neighborhood where everyone seemed to be at work.
As it is not a business district, shopping appears to be the main daytime activity in the Notting Hill/Kensington area. Shoppers, who seemed to be from other parts of London rather than tourists or locals, strolled by high-end boutiques and a few open air vendors on Portobello Road. On a Saturday, Portobello road would be packed for the local market.

It seems to be a large market with many different types of goods

It seems to be a large market with many different types of goods

Notably, there are no statues or monuments per se in Notting Hill. However, a plaque on Portobello Road indicates that George Orwell lived in a house there at an unspecified time in his life. This led us to wonder how different the neighborhood might have been when he was there, as he was not wealthy and actually spent time early in his career writing about the desperately poor in London and elsewhere.

Tags: Aidan · Uncategorized

White Teeth

August 13th, 2009 · 3 Comments

Since it was only optional and I’m guessing we won’t discuss it as a group in London, I thought I’d start a thread on Zadie Smith’s White Teeth. I just finished it yesterday, and I thought it was incredible. I’d say that Salaam Brick Lane probably gave me a much better idea of the diversity of immigrant experiences in London, but White Teeth addresses themes integral to all immigration with such well developed characters and a clever tone and format. Among the themes I thought most relevant to our London course are the malleability of identity (in a place as full of possibility and diversity as London), the differing eastern and western attitudes toward history (especially as it relates to Samad and his relationship with Archie), as well as the primacy of history (trying to run away from it or trying to hold onto it) in the lives of recent immigrants.

Did anyone else like White Teeth as much as I did? What else did you think was interesting or relevant? For those who read one of the other optional novels: have other writers drawn on these same themes when writing about immigrants in London?

Tags: Uncategorized