Dickinson College Humanities Program in Norwich

The B-B-British Museum

September 14th, 2009 · 2 Comments

Here are two very different quotes/poems about the British Museum (especially the Reading Room)

“If an army of monkeys were strumming on typewriters, they might write all the books in the British Museum”

-Sir Arthur Eddington

At the British Museum

-Richard Aldington


I turn the page and read:
“I dream of silent verses where the rhyme
Glides noiseless as an oar.”
The heavy musty air, the black desks,
The bent heads and the rustling noises
In the great dome
Vanish …
The sun hangs in the cobalt-blue sky,
The boat drifts over the lake shallows,
The fishes skim like umber shades through the undulating weeds,
The oleanders drop their rosy petals on the lawns,
And the swallows dive and swirl and whistle
About the cleft battlements of Can Grande’s castle…


I love the-wait for it- juxtaposition of these two quotes. One describes the beautiful “great dome” of the Reading Room and the other yields a sarcastic, even cynical, view of the very same room. I appreciate both for their differences, but I have to say that the British Museum is exceptional.

The sheer size of the building is enough to be completely overwhelming and the collection itself is staggering. When I first walked in and saw the Reading Room and the white floor and walls, I really felt the weight of the great minds of the past bearing down on me. At the time I had also been doing research on Virginia Woolf and George Eliot, two feminist literary figures in the 19th century. Both had studied in the Reading Room and had come up with some amazing pierces of literature there. For me, it bordered on a spiritual experience simply because I was in the presence of progressive thinkers who had so influenced the literary world.

And so that was my first impression of the British Museum and they didn’t stop there…I also began to formulate some questions about the past, present, and future of our own history.

 Walking through the museum and looking at the relics and artifacts from ancient empires made me wonder what antiquities future generations will keep in museums from our lifetime. When does it become ok for museums to take bodies from, say, sarcophaguses and put them behind glass? When do our tools become tools of the past? I am still pretty astounded by exhibits and the sheer history that is encompassed in a single place. The funny thing about museums (and this one in particular) is that they paradoxically make these ancient civilizations visual, yet somehow less real. I think this is largely due to the fact that the pots, statues, and other relics sit within a huge and beautifully furnished building. They are simply displayed on stands, under lights, and behind glass. I feel more like I am peering through a window into another time rather than getting the sense that these artifacts were used by people as tools for everyday life. Overall, it was hard for me to marry the idea of ancient artifacts behind glass and it has given me something to think about as I continue to visit more museums while I’m in London.
































Cabinet War Rooms


This particular blog will mostly be about how I felt as I walked through the war rooms which were pretty frightening




Oxford v. Bath

Tags: Maddie

"Oh, Virginia, Are You Home?"

August 24th, 2009 · 2 Comments

V Woolf

Yesterday, among the jam-packed day of activities (Passing the Tower of London and following the Roman wall, seeing the Museum of London, and visiting St. Paul’s), I went on a Qualls-guided-tour of the Bloomsbury district. For those of you who don’t know what the Bloomsbury Group is, they were about the hippest, coolest, people in the 20th century. They were artists and writers who threw elaborate cool parties and talked about politics and sometimes even swapped partners (homosexuality was still illegal in England at this time)!

Bloomsbury Plaque

Bloomsbury Plaque

How do I know all this, you ask? Well it’s because I know everything! Actually, I spent my second semester of last year pretty much completely immersed in a course called, Forester’s England, taught by Professor Wendy Moffat. While writer E. M. Forster himself was not a member of the Bloomsbury group, it was through this class that I learned so much about the group, its members, and their importance to the time period and England’s history. With all this in mind, it was probably one of the most exciting things I will do during this London course, to stand where these great, free spirited, free thinking people stood. Knowing all that was on the lone, these artists and writers strove to change the society before them. Being able to see where that was happening was truly amazing.

Virginia Woolf Bust

Virginia Woolf Bust

After our class discussion this morning about English people’s connection to their country’s history, and their “English Pride,” it is even more exciting to think about the Bloomsbury group and just how revolutionary their ideas and way of life were. Even the idea of political change is not something most everyday English people think of, let alone act on! As an artist myself, I know the power of the creative arts as motivation for political change and activism.

Standing where Virginia Woolf once stood, where John Maynard Keynes once discussed his economic theories, where Vanessa Bell once must have visited her sister and painted, I only hope that someday my creative efforts can achieve as much as theirs did.

Below is a slide show of photos from my full day, including the Bloomsbury tour, St. Paul’s, and the Museum of London.

Tags: Megan