British Museum

On Tuesday, July 21, our class took "The Tube" to the world famous British Museum. A person could literally get lost in time and space in the British Museum. I was glad that we did not have an official tour and we were free to explore our own interests in this great museum. This blog will incorporate some of the things I saw, and how I was able to connect them to the experiences that I have had thus far in life.

I began my journey with the artifacts from ancient Greece. The Greek pottery was preserved in pristine condition, with the figures and colors easily identified. One of the stone sphinxes actually has traces of the deep red pigment that it had hundreds of years ago. The artifacts reminded me of the animations from Disney's Hercules, which is one of my favorite animated Disney movies.

There were many Grecian artifacts that displayed the human form, especially the balance and proportions of the male figure. One of my favorite sets of statues were the Three Nereids or sea nymphs because the sculptures were so beautiful. These pieces were so detailed that I could see the thin water or wind swept clothes that adorned the bodies of the goddesses.

I also spent time in the ancient Egyptian exhibit, especially being that close to hieroglyphics. The writing on King Ramses II's arm reminds me of the tattoos that many of my peers are getting. Speaking of tattoos, I have a small ankh on my back, and it was moving to see that symbol used to express thoughts thousands of years ago.

Finally, I fought through the crowds to get a good look at the Rosetta Stone. Before this trip, I knew more about the Rosetta Stone has a commercial device to aid in language acquisition, but now I know better. This stone which was acquired by the British Museum in 1802 allows us to understand the past in its own words. I am impressed by the sophistication of early civilizations and I am glad that the British Museum is taking such good care of this international treasure.

Although many of the artifacts were intact at the British Museum, other pieces were in fragments, with the accompanying pieces in other museums in places like Copenhagen, Wurzberg, and Athens. For example, one of the legs from an Apollo statue is at The Lourve in France. Another consequence of broken artifacts is that the curators could not definitively state what the figures were depicting. The British Museum is the perfect example of how decisions to preserve materials and educate the public can be very controversial.

Before I came to London, my colleagues in library school were telling me how evil the English empire was for stealing from its colonies and never returning the loot, and I was anxious to see how the British Library would frame its position. As a museum patron, I walked through the ancient Greece portion of the museum, and at the end there is a hallway that explains the controversy and why the museum feels justified. The British Museum paints Lord Elgin as an important figure who spared the pieces from pollution, weathering and vandalism.

The explanation also says that Elgin also connected Grecian society to other ancient societies in the context of the museum. Lastly, it is impossible to return the materials to their original state, so they are ultimately better off in the British Museum. Although I was happy to see these artifacts in one pristine and inclusive exhibit, I do think that the only context that really matters for these pieces is the original context. As Grecian people are piecing their legacy together, I believe that they should have control over the artifacts that their ancestors created. I know that returning artifacts to their original owners would unleash a brand new set of concerns, but that is my stance as an emerging librarian.

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