Sunday, July 10, 2011

British Museum Archives & Exhibits

Our class took the Tube to the British Museum to get a tour of the archives. Stephanie Clarke is the sole archivist for the British Museum. This archive holds the historical and administrative records of the museum from 1753 to the 1960s detailing the museum’s workings.

On average there are thirty inquiries per week and five to six researchers per week, the majority are academics doing research.

Examples of the records kept there are from trustees, staff, finance, and exhibitions. The records are bound in books, and the indexes are organized A-Z, page number and date. The archivist showed us an example of a book of bound letters, correspondences e.g. an archaeologists requesting money from the museum, and the museum refusing to send any more money.

Along with the collection are about 5,000 photographs related to staff of the building, not the collection, because those are kept with the individual museum departments. The examples shown to us were from Frederick Short, a photographer, who took photos of Egyptian antiquities on exhibit in the early part of the twentieth century.

Also in the collection are applications for use of the reading room and archives. Notable letters have been placed in plastic sleeves from the likes of Helen Beatrice Potter, Rudyard Kipling, and Bram Stoker to name a few.

The only part of the collection that is being digitized is the microfilms up to WWII. All other digitizing projects are placed on hold due to the economy in the UK. Items that are born digital might be stored on Sharepoint. The archivist indicated that the IT Department was handling that aspect of the collection.

I never considered that the record keeping of the museum would develop into such interesting archives. Consider the basic correspondence between the person managing the reading room with some of the better known authors.

After leaving the archives I went to several exhibits in the British Museum. On the ground floor I saw an exhibit on the traditional dress of Oman. Nearby was an exhibit of jewelry from the Balkans. Part of the tradition is for people to wear in boxes that are part of the jewelry scripture from the Koran. The people thought that jewelry not only exhibited wealth and social standing, but kept away the evil eye.

Next I went up to see: Britain and Europe 800 BC – AD 43; Europe AD 300 – 1100; Medieval Europe AD 1050 – 1500; Europe 1400 – 1800; and Europe 1800 – 1900. I find it interesting to note that many items that we humans still use haven’t altered much in designed such a tweezers, combs, buckles, and we still adorn ourselves with jewelry.

I was also surprised to see how many different groups of people with their own language and culture invaded/migrated to different areas of Europe, brought with them their favored possessions and adopted new ones in their new homes.

Around the Medieval sections of the exhibit there were new additions from recently discovered hoards in England. There was even a web site posted for people to report their discoveries

My question is sense the discoveries are deemed to belong to England how many people aren’t reported what they have unearthed?

By two o’clock my mind was completely saturated with everything that I’d read and seen. It was time to go.

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