British museum Archives - St. Stephen's University

Confiscating Cultures?

By | 2017, Europe | No Comments

The weight of the historical achievements of architecture, sculpture, engineering, technology and art can be felt in many great museums, such as the Victoria and Albert Museum and the British Museum in London. The feeling that all of these artifacts that formed cultural and societal development throughout the world were in one place for me to experience was a great and exciting sensation, which I felt very prominently as I walked through halls filled with various specimens from long-lost cultures of Europe and Asia.

Victoria & Albert Museum (Courtesy of website)

However, this sense of awe was overshadowed by a question of ownership that had been brought up earlier in our week in London and before the trip. It deals with the fact that some of the artifacts in these museums may be have been stolen for the museums without  taking into account the significance of those objects to the countries that they were from, such as the many Egyptian mummies in the British Museum.

I think the issue has more complexities than simply robbed artifacts, such as legitimately acquiring items through trade, purchase or quite possibly to preserve them to name a few, and it is often not an issue of larger powers robbing from others. I also cannot discount the incredible value of having all of those pieces in one place to study and for the world to come and see. However, in a time where most countries can easily access other ones for research and travel, I wonder whether or not it is necessary to continue to uproot historical landmarks and objects from their cultural context. This is the question I will wrestle with as I travel throughout the rest of Europe, encountering more cultures and their historical achievements.


By | 2011, Europe | One Comment

The conclusion. The grand, so what? The point where we ask what the point was. Did we all just go on an extensive holiday? A spiritual pilgrimage? A big experiment in social dynamics? A cool photo/marketing opportunity for the school? How do you classify the crazy adventure we all shared in? And how are you supposed to quantify its value?

I am hesitant to call this trip ‘life changing.’ Educational – yes. Relationship building – I hope so. Thought provoking – definitely. But life changing? Doubtful. I’ve only been home two weeks and already the only tangible result of going to Europe is the homework. It is just too easy to slip back in to the same patterns of living and thinking. I hope though, that I can take away a new definition of normal. Or rather, a destruction of the concept of normal. You would think living in the big yellow house would be enough to convince a person that normality is an illusion, but apparently not. In the Vatican, I saw a fresco of a smashed Roman idol being replaced by a crucifix, and I was reminded that this is the reason Christianity seems ‘normal.’ In the colonies section of the British museum, I was reminded of why English is the ‘normal’ language, and why I expect that I can get by in all other European countries without bothering to learn more than a few phrases. The Uffizi and the Louvre were reminders of where our categories of good and bad art – and female beauty for that matter – are derived from. While learning about the darker parts of Reformation history, I wondered why it is so easy to believe our own doctrines and heroes are ‘normal,’ or, dare I say, infallible. Eastern Europe showed us a people for whom capitalism is not normal, although it is quickly becoming so. Visiting the Flanders Fields museum, we remembered that for many people, peace is not normal. And a feminist NGO worker in Brussels told us that just because a system is ‘normal,’ doesn’t mean it has to be.

So hopefully I learned something. Hopefully it makes a lasting difference. And hopefully I can learn to live without divisions of who is normal and who is not.