Dickinson College Humanities Program in Norwich

Applying some more Museum Studies theory

September 2nd, 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.

Tags: Azul · Uncategorized

Ladies, please do not touch ANYTHING

August 26th, 2009 · No Comments

After spending all morning viewing the beautiful architecture of The Collegiate Church of St Peter at Westminster (or Westminster Abbey) I decided to take advantage of two hot spots close to the hotel; the British Museum and Oasis Health Club.  Unfortunately the latter was closed to the general public, but I was still lucky enough to journey over to the British Museum.

Upon walking into the museum I was immediately taken aback by the vast size of the lobby. I couldn’t possibly imagine what was beyond the walls of the entrance, but we grabbed a map and decided to plot out our route.  After simply staring at the map for a few minutes Patsy and I noticed a section at the bottom that said, “Make the most of your visit” followed by a series of objects spread out throughout the museum.  We decided that this would probably be our best bet and we were off.
We journeyed through the rooms and experienced some of the oldest objects from Egypt, Rome, Greece, and China, just to name a few, but despite the numerous countries represented in the British Museum objects from the United Kingdom did not appear to be present in any of the rooms of the museum.  For so many years England was a major powerhouse in the world and was able to collect these valued and ancient items from all over the world.  I was anticipating that when I took trips to these neighboring nations that I would be able to see these detailed objects and to take a step further into the ancient world, but with the British Museum hosting so many of these notable items I could hardly contain myself as I stepped closer to marble statues of Roman gods.  I reached out and slowly rubbed my fingers against the cold stone, but apparently that’s not allowed (there really should have been better signage in the area..) and so as we ventured through the rest of the museum I made sure to keep my hands behind my back so as not to be tempted to touch the objects again (really I felt like a little kid, with so much history surrounding me and just wanting to touch it! And I typically do not get excited about museums.)

Because of the vast size of the museum, and the number of objects on the, “Make the most of your visit” list we were only able to get through about half of the objects.  But I am excited to return to the museum and to finish moving through the rest of the museum.

Tags: Amanda