The British Museum, by R. Dewinetz

Mrs. Becker has asked me to do a blog post for the day at the British Museum, to quote her, “that’s up your alley”. And I am going to take that as a compliment. 

This was my second time to the museum.  The first time there I spent around 6 hours and took a record number of pictures. This time I had only 3 hours and was clueless as to how to use it best. In her previous evening dispatch to us Mrs. Becker had recommended we check out the Rick Steve’s app and his audio tour of the British Museum.  This seemed like a good place to start. The audio tour itself lasts around an hour, not including travel time and my mind was boggled as to how they would do it. The museum is a temple to British Imperialism, numbering over 8 million works! I couldn’t quite see how it was possible to rush through it in that amount of time.  After looking at the map of the audio tour, I realized that they weren’t expecting to cover the museum, they were simply covering Ancient Egypt, Ancient Greece and Ancient Mesopotamia. These 3 collections amount to 1/3rd of the main floor but feature many of the big ticket items people come to the museum to see. Some of the treasures include the rosetta stone, mummies, and the famous Elgin Marbles. I followed along with the tour and had to struggle with my innate desire to see everything. While I did follow along with the tour, and was learning a lot, I did still sneak off to see other things, such as a mummified goldfish! 

EventualIy I run into Mrs. Becker who has abandoned the tour and is busy taking pictures instead and is (with not luck) looking for a particular Japanese woodblock print. I put on the tour guide hat and take her to the hard-to-find fifth floor Japanese exhibition. On our way up to the fifth floor I wonder why is it that no one talks on the elevator? So I ask that to the people on the elevator and end up making new friends from Greece and Ireland. I resume the audio tour and finish it off. It is at this point it is made clear why the tour is only an hour, we have barely scratched the surface on the museum.  However, I did get a chance to educate Mrs. Becker on a few points of Japanese culture (and geography….) No such luck finding the Japanese print though.

At this point Mrs. Becker is exhausted, and decides to take a break on a bench in the great hall.  I leave my camera bag and jacket with her and set off to see as much as I can in my remaining hour. One of the most controversial aspects of the museum is their possession of Elgin’s marbles. The marbles are parts of the Parthenon and other parts of the Acropolis, taken by Lord Elgin when he was a British ambassador to the Otttoman Empire, which at the time was occupying what is now Greece. While in this position he used his influence to get permission to remove portions of the frieze, metopes, and pedimental sculptures of the Parthenon, as well as of sculptured slabs from the Athenian temple of Nike Apteros. This is part of the reason that I made reference to the museum as a temple to British Imperialism. It is worth remembering that Canada was once part of the British Empire, and is still part of the British Commonwealth. I run into some of the students and take them to see the stuff that was taken from Canada and all the amazing First Nations art from the west coast as well as the Canadian north and plains. These museum artefacts taken from Canada also allow us to feel empathy for what that Greeks feel about what has happened to their heritage. It was pointed out that this museum would make a great place to take a field trip for Social Studies 8 or 9 or 10 and its true, to bad for the flight.

Great Hall, part of our group, and Harleen & Simran with the Rosetta Stone
Stone Ramses, Egyptian Art and Hieroglyphics
Moai from Easter Island, Parts of the Parthenon and Acropolis, and Cleopatra
Vancouver Totem, Entrance to Mesopotamia, Statue from Greece
More of the Parthenon and group outside the museum

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