For many, the icon of the British Museum is the Rosetta Stone, that administrative by-product of the Greek imperial adventure in Africa.
Our collective memories are welcoming places, and one image, that of Jesus, has absorbed and appropriated elements of other traditions and aspirations in order to shape our communal remembering.
The collapse of the Tower of Babel is perhaps the central urban myth. It is certainly the most disquieting. In Babylon, the great city that fascinated and horrified the Biblical writers, people of different races and languages, drawn together in pursuit of wealth, tried for the first time to live together – and failed.
In 1600, when Shakespeare’s audience at the Globe heard ‘Hamlet’ for the first time, every one of them knew very well what it meant to be handed a cup of wine by a figure of authority and told to drink.
I’m a psychologist. I was a psychology faculty member, and then I became an administrator of the department, then the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. At the time of the presidential search, I was the dean.
Because of the long, long history of British shipping, immigration, trade, empire, missionaries, you can have a better shot at telling a worldwide story in the British Museum’s collection than any other. Britain has been more connected with the rest of the world than any other country, for longer.
Objects let you tell a narrative that encompasses everybody. Texts don’t.
The British Museum was founded with a civic purpose: to allow the citizen, through reasoned inquiry and comparison, to resist the certainties that endanger free society and are still among the greatest threats to our liberty.
Thanks to the unprecedented reach of British navigation, London in the early 18th century was not just the emporium of the world, it was the first place in which it was possible to assemble artifacts from around the world and allow people to study them.
As the Persians wrote very little about how they ran their affairs, the Greek propaganda of the 5th century B.C. has for centuries gone virtually unchallenged – indeed, for Edward Said, it was the beginning of Europe’s long habit of misunderstanding and ill-informed contempt of the Middle East.