2009-07-18

ranty rant rant

I accidentally spent a couple hours at the British Museum today.
(By the way, if you happen to be concerned I'm not actually working while here, I finished my essay, for the most part, Friday, and am now just revising it. If you happen to work with me, I'll even show you the paper after I hand it in.)
If you've heard me rant about this before, I apologize, but I struggle with the British Museum. I think it's gorgeous, and fascinating, and I'm trying to work out some ideas, which is why I spent so much time there today, a second visit in a week and a half. I feel like not everyone in the world will have access to mummies' tombs and ancient Roman ruins, not everyone will travel to all the places where they were found. And so the British Museum stands as a central place for everyone to learn -- especially as curators move to put virtually everything online.
But the museum is not just an homage to the Enlightenment, it's an homage to imperialism. And there's no pretending around that. They have pieces of the Parthenon because Brits two hundred years ago didn't think locals could handle it. And that's just scraping the surface of all the stuff taken from lands far and wide from people deemed unworthy to maintain their own history. In little explanatory notes all over the place, there's hints that "issues" have come up, but no real responsibility taken for what amounts, in some cases, to simply looting. Similarly, in the North American room, there are hints and references to the deaths of thousands of aboriginal people after European conquest, but only a passing note that disease seemed to overtake them. It's shockingly understated compared to the monuments found all over this city to the victories of imperialism, not least of which includes the Albert Memorial. Queen Victoria's love is surrounded by statues of men from all over the world, Africa, North America, Asia and Europe. But these men's faces are European, no matter what manner of loincloth or other local attire they've been assigned.

Ok. Rant over. Pretty pictures from the library (top right is a Roman statue of Zeus -- pretty hot god, eh?):








(A totally unrelated note: I realize few of you are super interested in my chick lit leanings -- and by chick lit, by the way, I mean literature most often written by and for women. Not a demeaning value judgement. Anyway, Jennifer Weiner has a new book out -- I'm excited -- and you can hear her hilariously inappropriate commentary via podcast here.)

3 comments:

Richard said...

I look forward to seeing this "essay."

erin said...

Just to play devil's advocate here, think of how much of the world's culture would have vanished if it weren't for the British taking bits of it and putting it into safe-keeping. So many of the Egyptian tombs have been raided by (non-British) looters for Cairo's souvenir markets, that if the Brits had not been so forward thinking all those years ago, we would have no relics from the period for the public to see and learn from. The Parthenon would a falling-apart building in a sooty city. So many cultures have shown themselves unable or unwilling the maintain ancient parts of their culture (the massive Buddhas in Afghanistan, for example), that maybe we should all be a little thankful that the British were there so we would at least have some objects from earlier eras... or not.

TSS said...

Right... you totally went to London just to "work," and "study." Such work and study could be not be done anywhere else other than London, which you just happen to find endlessly wonderful and interesting.

Right. :)

I doubt anyone is concerned you are not working, and I doubt anyone thinks you're neglecting your studies. But, come on. You're in London. One can't be blamed for frolicking a bit, can one?

Agree with you on BM. But Erin has provided food for thought.