Literature and the British Museum

Hello everyone, my name is Rory Sullivan, a junior here at the College. I am an English major, and my work this summer is research for my Honors Thesis, which is looking at the relationship between literature and the British Museum. The British Museum is an iconic institution of Western culture, making it a naturally attractive topic for literary figures. While the various writers work in different ways, for example Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s poem “The Burden of Nineveh” focuses on an artifact in the Museum, while Virginia Woolf  repeatedly comes back to the Reading Room, generally the aims are the same. The Museum projects a certain British identity, and these writers interrogate it through writing. My thesis will uncover these thoughts, and articulate the different answers writers found to these questions, creating a better understanding of what exactly it means to be British through the Museum.

In order to accomplish this I’ll spend this summer reading and rereading literary sources. In addition, I’ll travel to the Museum, studying the objects, and the Museum itself, in person, providing a direct comparison to what I find in the literature. While there, I will also spend time in the archives, which contain the minutes from the meetings of the Board of Trustees. These notes will give me a clear idea of what exactly the Museum was attempting to say during different times, helping to resolve what exactly its model of Britishness is.

I look forward to all your comments along the way. Good luck everyone!

Sullivan, Rory 1