Thursday, 14 July 2016

The British Museum

The British Museum archives is probably the place that I’ve been the most excited to see. I’ve been in love with the British Museum ever since I first read about it in The Red Pyramid by Rick Riordan, the first of the Kane Chronicles books. The first few chapters of the book take place in London, including the museum and Cleopatra’s Needle. My love of it was just reinforced by my previous trip to London, where I was able to see the actual Parthenon statues in person for the first time! Naturally, I saw them again this trip J
Me at the British Museum in 2013 and 2016
My class was split into two groups for this tour, as the archives themselves are very cramped. I was in the second group, so we had time to explore the museum before our tour.
The Rosetta Stone
I explored the Egyptian rooms with a few of my classmates, and then darted off to the Greek and Roman rooms to see my favorite part of the museum. After walking through the rooms with the mummies with my eyes closed (I will never ever like mummies!), I ended up at the Japan room, where a few of my other classmates were too! We didn’t have much time after looking through that gallery before our tour started, so we took a quick glance through the gift shop and then we were escorted to the basement to see the archives.
The archives were honestly a lot more disorganized than I expected – to no fault of the current archivist! She is only the second archivist in the museum’s long history, and before her predecessor, things weren’t stored and sorted in the best of ways. Francesca is trying her hardest to reverse centuries of strangeness (that’s the best word I can find to describe it!). There isn’t currently a catalogue to know what exactly else there is – simple due to many original documents being bound in volumes, changes in organization systems, and changes in department names.

Despite some of the problems, the records are still impressive. The earliest record is from 1738, and they still have the meeting notes from the museum’s first meeting of trustees in 1753. An original ticket is in the collection, as well as a guidebook from 1808 – the ticket doesn’t mean that the museum was paid entry though! It simply had a vast collection, and guided tours were given. The guidebooks simplified things a bit, but I suspect guided tours lasted for much longer after the first guidebook was printed.

Like I said in the British Library post, the museum was the library’s former location. To this day, the reading room in the central courtyard is intact, exactly how it was left! We didn’t see it this tour, but I suspect that’s a good thing – it must be dusty! (Or maybe not – they might have it cleaned regularly. I didn’t think to ask!)

My favorite things from this tour: like the Henry Ford back at home, there is still new material being found in the library! They also have records stating the museum’s legal ownership of the Parthenon statues; reading room records from the 1880s, including Bram Stoker’s readers card (!!); and a bit of a bomb that hit the museum during the blitz – it took the museum decades to fully recover from that!


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