Summary of Findings

With classes starting in nearly two weeks, it’s time to wrap everything up by sharing my findings with you.  My time in the British Museum Archives really helped open my eyes about the institution, and revealed that many preconceptions are somewhat unfair. For example, the idea that the Museum goes out and steals artifacts from other nations and cultures is misleading. Yes, it is true the Museum occasionally funds digs, but most of their collection comes from donations or purchases from individuals or groups; in 1841 alone there were over 206 individual donors. Now it is possible these individuals obtained the objects in potentially questionable ways, but what is important is that the Museum was not directly involved in “looting”, something that appears throughout literature, and even in the public consciousness.

As far as Britishness goes, an idea that as of right now is central to my thesis, the Museum clearly stresses propriety. Every year there were multiple instances of the Trustees banning someone from the Reading Room if they did not follow the rules. Anytime a book was taken from the building, someone smoked in the lavatory, or someone just had poor hygiene, the Trustees  took steps to ensure that they would never pass through the doors of the British Museum again. In addition, they would not allow dogs in their garden, a fact I found rather humorous. My first thought when I saw this trend was that it relates to the vast amount of detective fiction that calls upon the British Museum, such as a few Sherlock Holmes stories. Holmes studies in the Museum, which gives him the information needed to catch the criminal, or lawbreaker. As a bastion of propriety, the Museum abhors lawbreakers, so it makes perfect sense that it would help to catch them.

In 1814, The Museum purchased a set of Napoleon medals, a fact I initially found strange, At the time Napoleon  dominated current events, and it’s doubtful the people of Britain needed to reminded of him in a Museum; the casualties of the wars would do that well enough. I decided that this was an act of power by the Museum. By purchasing and exhibiting artifacts of Napoleon, the Museum is able to assert itself over the French emperor. He becomes thing of the past, an artifact that the current reigning power, Britain, must show it’s people to explain to them what came before. The BM does the same thing with Papal medals, which allows them to express the superiority of Protestant England over Catholic Rome.

There’s so much more I’ve found, but I believe these points give a decent overview of my findings. It’s been fun sharing, and good luck everyone at the colloquium!


  1. mmsalgadoflores says:

    These are interesting findings! I always thought the British Museum was directly involved in gaining the objects in it’s collection. Thanks for clearing that up. I also find the idea of exhibiting artifacts from rival powers as a way to show superiority an intriguing idea. Good luck to you too at the colloquium!