In the anniversary lecture given by by Neil MacGregor, he predictably expounds the universal museum concept as the way forward for the British Museum. It should still be remembered that the whole Universal Museum concept is one pushed by the museum itself – no one appointed them to this role, it is not the only possible role for a museum & most importantly, the original owners of artefacts were never consulted about it.
The Universal Museum ideology neglects the circumstances of acquisition and the original context, focusing instead on the entity of the holding museum itself. This is not to say that it is without any benefits, but it should not be seen as a clear cut justification for perpetuating the status quo.
January 25, 2009
British Museum director Neil MacGregor talks collections
An extract from Neil MacGregor’s anniversary lecture where he reflects on the great works made by humans throughout history
It was 250 years ago this month that the British Museum first opened its doors to the public. When you visit the museum today, you visit somewhere that is like no other collection, no other building on earth. It is the only place where you can, in every sense, walk through the world, and through time, and look at the whole range of what humans have made and speculate as to what they have thought.
But the British Museum’s collection is a very odd one. There are great works of art in it, of course, such as the Iris from the Parthenon or Michelangelo’s only surviving study for Adam. But the British Museum is not a museum of art. And its collection has always led to contradiction with its name. It is a matter of bafflement to many people why it is called the British Museum when such a small percentage of the objects in it are British. But it is quintessentially British. It is effectively the first public institution to be called British — rather to our irritation, the British Linen Bank got there first. It was quintessentially British in 1753, when it was founded by parliament; and it is true today.
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