The British Museum (1)

We went to the British Museum today – partly out of a straightforward desire to see it and partly to catch up on its new display strategies. To judge from some of the newspapers, it has had an attack of the utmost wokeness, but we went through the Egyptian and Greek galleries and were disappointed to discover that the labelling was exactly as it was before: indeed, perhaps unchanged since the early 1980s, with no additional information that we could find about the circumstances of the objects’ acquisition, whether through plunder, purchase or archaeological digs, all of which would add to their interest. We missed the African galleries to have lunch, so the only change we detected was a display case of the utmost tastefulness in the Enlightenment gallery which acknowledges the extent to which Hans Sloane, the founder of the British Museum, was a beneficiary of slavery during the time that he was physician to the Governor of Jamaica, invested in the Africa Company, and married Elizabeth Langley Rose, a plantation owner. It felt like a wholly legitimate adjustment of the historical narrative, not exactly dethroning him from his centrality in any account of the British Museum, but acknowledging that, like so many of his generation, he was complicit, both actively through his investments, and passively through his time spent in Jamaica, with the slave trade. I suspect that many of those who have expressed outrage have not seen how it has been done:-


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