June 13, 2012

Re-examining the controversial status of the ‘Universal Museum’

Posted at 5:38 pm in Elgin Marbles

As part of the colloquy on the reunification of the Parthenon Marbles, Tom Flynn is going to look at what the Universal Museum really claims to be – and the many problems with the reasoning behind it.

PR Newswire

Universal Museum Concept & Debate at the Global London Colloquy June 19, 2012
LONDON, June 11, 2012 /PRNewswire/ —

The concept of the Universal Museum is at the heart of current debates about cultural property and nowhere more so than in the case of the Parthenon Marbles being held by the British Museum – arguably the definitive example of a ‘Universal Museum’. It is a subject that will be examined at the an international colloquy on “The Reunification of the Parthenon Marbles” to be held in London 19 & 20 June, to register please visit http://www.parthenonuk.com

As the start of the London Olympics approaches, pressure is mounting on the British Museum to reunify the Parthenon Marbles in what is universally acknowledged as their rightful home – the new Acropolis Museum in Athens, which opened in 2009. Greece’s acute economic plight has merely amplified the need for a cultural gesture that many believe would have an immeasurable impact in kindling a sense of optimism and hope among the Greek people.

Amongst the distinguished speakers at the London colloquy is Dr Tom Flynn, who will sketch a brief history of the concept of the Universal Museum and will survey its current controversial status in relation to the repatriation of objects, and particularly to the case of the Parthenon Marbles. His talk will interrogate the function of these vast encyclopaedic collections in an increasingly ‘globalised’ world.

Most universal museums are struggling to respond to developing nations seeking to recover the material evidence of their past, much of which was appropriated by western powers during the imperial age. A stock response from western museum directors is to call for the establishment of more ‘Universal’ museums in developing nations. Is this a realistic aspiration or a strategy designed to deflect attention from a historical imbalance in the custodianship of cultural property? What is to be done?

Dr Tom Flynn will argue that instead of opening the notional ‘floodgates’ to more requests for return, the reunification of the Parthenon Marbles by the British Museum would light a beacon for a new era in global museum co-operation and cultural diplomacy. Such a gesture would reveal the ‘Universal Museum’ not as a retardataire institution looking back to the eighteenth-century European Enlightenment, but as a visionary agent of humanitarian change in the twenty-first century.

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