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Museums have always been problematic All exhibits make a statement about power

Observer or observed? Credit: Dave Etheridge-Barnes/Getty

Observer or observed? Credit: Dave Etheridge-Barnes/Getty


December 1, 2022   6 mins

In 1906, the New York Times reported on a new exhibition at the monkey house in the Bronx zoo causing a stir among visitors and the press: a human inhabitant. Ota Benga, a 23-year-old Bushman, could be seen in the orang-utan enclosure, where he drew crowds of hundreds who stared at him as he wove hammocks or shot his bow.

This was an age far more gung-ho than our own about taking artefacts, creatures and even living human beings from their contexts, and putting them on display for the entertainment and edification of the masses. Prince Albert’s 1851 Great Exhibition had displayed technological innovations alongside consumer goods and looted colonial treasures, setting off a trend for World Fairs that served both in person and via print media as a kind of populist catalogue of all there is to know about the world. Museums of all kinds flourished over the same era as standard-bearers for culture across Europe and the New World.

But is it intrinsically wrong to display things — or people — in this way? Even in 1906, caging a living human in a monkey enclosure prompted outrage. Since then, though, our discomfort with the objectification this implies has grown much more intense. “What’s the point of museums?” asked the Wellcome Collection recently on Twitter. This was a preamble to announcing the closure of the Wellcome Trust’s Medicine Man exhibition, a large collection of medical artefacts from around the world that had been amassed by the American pharmaceutical entrepreneur Henry Wellcome through the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

The announcement prompted a furious response, denouncing the move as “infantile and anti-intellectual” and modern museums as “vandalising themselves”. And it’s true that the economic and political power that allowed museum collections to be amassed has come under revisionist scrutiny more recently — as has the worldview that gave rise to museums as a cultural form. The turning-point was the First World War, the conflagration that destroyed high imperial Europe, and set in motion the disintegration of its empires in favour of the Pax Americana we’ve all inhabited since.

More than a century after that hinge moment, today the worldview and geopolitical order that amassed most of our museum collections are denounced as “problematic” — and increasingly subject to “dismantling”. But rather than merely complain, yet again, about “woke” culture war being waged in museums, we should see that the assault this implies on an entire worldview — Enlightenment objectivity — is not without justification. Nor is the “dismantling” of this worldview something that can be halted. But the ongoing assault on what’s left of our 19th-century cultural heritage is less a reflection of moral progress in any absolute sense, than of shifts in the underlying power relations that gave rise to museums in the first place.

In their classical 19th-century form, museums and exhibitions are the quintessential “pop” expression of the Enlightenment worldview. To present something as an exhibit in a museum makes a statement about that thing, and what we can know about it.

It says: I, the curator, am in command of what’s knowable about this thing, which you observe from a distance while absorbing facts about it. A museum’s traditional spatial arrangements underline the core empiricist relation between observer and observed. You aren’t free to touch or use or otherwise form a tactile relationship with the artefacts on display. Instead, visitors are invited to observe exhibits from a distance, while absorbing curated facts about them. By extension, the museum implies, this is how civilised people relate to the world in general.

And to make sense in this context, the exhibit must be removed from the network of social relationships that produced it, and rendered as a thing: a discrete object. So what, you might say. What’s wrong with looking at things, in order to learn about the world? But the revulsion occasioned by Ota Benga’s appearance in the Bronx Zoo in 1906 suggests that it isn’t just “woke” modern-day curators who sense that something violent, or violating, happens when an “exhibit” is removed from its social context and placed on display: a literal objectification, made only starker when it happens to a living person.

This perspective argues further that it’s not just the act of turning artefacts into exhibits that both enacts, and conceals, violence. And this core of the woke critique of this social form is the same as its critique of rationalism more generally: that it obscures its own power relations.

For even when they’re presented as high-minded repositories of knowledge, under the bonnet museums hold the residue of much else besides. Museums encode a hierarchical power relation between observer and exhibit, and another secondly between curator and visitor.  In their 19th-century form, museums also collated the edited highlights of the entire civilisational order of high colonial Europe, while downplaying the real-world power, money and sometimes bloody violence that went into creating that order. In his 2020 polemic The Brutish Museums, Pitt-Rivers curator Dan Hicks argues that far from being a benign side-effect of imperialism, museums are in fact inextricable from that violence — and that for as long as museums exist, they’re still perpetuating it.

Hicks cites as a central example the Benin bronzes, which were looted from a destroyed city in what is now Nigeria, following the Punitive Expedition in 1897, during which Benin was destroyed and its inhabitants massacred. Though today negotiations are ongoing about returning them to Nigeria, some 900 of the bronzes remain in the British Museum, where they were displayed for many years with little commentary on their provenance.

The British Museum is also under ongoing pressure to return the Greek sculptures taken from the Parthenon between 1801 and 1812 by Thomas Bruce, the Earl of Elgin. Their removal was controversial even at the time, and Elgin eventually backed out of the controversy by selling the sculptures to the British government. Like the Benin bronzes, they now reside in the British Museum, where they have become a bone of diplomatic contention between Britain and Greece.

So museums serve as powerful sociocultural force-fields. They collate objects taken sometimes forcibly, while entrenching some ideas as “facts” and normalising the invisibility of other, equally salient ideas, along lines that align with the dominant political order. But the woke critique tends to stop here, rather than noticing that this cuts both ways. Wherever we find museums — or their exhibits — obviously under attack in the modern world, this tends to correspond to wider shifts in power relations; for example modern Greece has been complaining about removal of the Elgin Marbles since the state was founded in the 19th century. But Greek diplomats didn’t start seriously campaigning for their return until some time after the collapse of Britain as a global geopolitical hegemon.

Meanwhile, Dan Hicks has provided a furious text to accompany the Wellcome Collection’s exhibit of Jeremy Bentham’s skin, in which Hicks denounces the way museums “recentred the white cis-male body” and demands that curators “Dismantle Wellcome’s enduring colonialism, its white infrastructure”. But what this perhaps ignores is that we could dispose of Wellcome’s entire collection of artefacts, and doing so wouldn’t make the smallest dent in the Wellcome Trust’s contribution to the objectifying worldview at the heart of woke critiques of museums as such.

Henry Wellcome made his money in pharmaceutical innovation, a success founded in the scientific paradigm: a worldview even more quintessentially objectifying and rationalist than the architecture of a traditional museum. Museums extend this worldview beyond the sciences, implying that this is what “learning” is: a detached, observing consciousness standing at a little distance from an object whose meaning is contained on a little sign. And if you were taking serious aim at the “violence” encoded in that rationalism, you would have to be willing to sacrifice all of the natural sciences too.

But the Wellcome Trust isn’t doing that. The rationalism encoded in scientific research is still generously funded by Wellcome Trust grants, even as the same worldview is loudly “contextualised” in the same foundation’s museum exhibits. So regardless of how loudly the surface colouring is denounced by Dan Hicks, the institution’s plumbing and associated worldview have been left more or less intact, with little more than a change of surface colouring.

Objectors might point out that the war on science is indeed happening in some contexts, for example where Scientific American and Nature publish pieces arguing that “sex is a spectrum” (it really isn’t a spectrum). But it’s also true that scientists remember there are two sexes again the moment there’s money to be made from the fertility industry.

And this, ultimately, is why woke museum revisionism excites anger: the sense that power relations are less being “dismantled” than redecorated, in the name of a new and just-as-mystified set of power relations. And we can infer from this that calling progressives “anti-culture” is to underestimate this worldview.

Some of those challenging the objectification baked into the museum format are no doubt genuine in their wish to give voice to marginalised perspectives. But no matter how you rail against the past, how many angry footnotes you add to an exhibit, or even if you abolish museums altogether, you can’t really undo historic power relations. Nor does rescuing “objectified” artefacts even necessarily reinstate them in the context from which they were taken. Ota Benga ended up being “rescued” by Black Baptists, who took him to Virginia and gave him a room and board. But he was never happy living in a house, and would often sleep in the woods. Homesick for the Congo, eventually he built a bonfire, burned the European clothes in which he’d been dressed, and shot himself.

By the same token, while the artefacts in the Wellcome Collection aren’t sentient human beings, it’s not as though being “contextualised” afresh in light of the new morality will make any substantive difference to their previous history, or result in their restitution wherever they came from. Nor would it make any difference to the wider paradigm of scientific rationalism whose advance continues to be funded by the legacy of Henry Wellcome. All that would change would be the aesthetics that decorate that advance.

Those who set the limits on what can or can’t be “problematised” know this. They will merrily smash every legacy of high European imperialism, in the name of ending oppression — except where that legacy is still useful. And this is not any kind of “dismantling’”; it’s simply new owners redecorating an economic and political engine, which will go on operating largely untouched. In other words: it’s not moral progress, it’s just a change of management.


Mary Harrington is a contributing editor at UnHerd.

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J Bryant
J Bryant
1 year ago

A clever and scholarly essay that explains in a tightly-reasoned form what I’ve instinctively believed all along: wokeism is just a power grab.

Brett H
Brett H
1 year ago
Reply to  J Bryant

And they can only achieve this by wiping away, or ignoring, history which complicates their ideology.

Last edited 1 year ago by Brett H
Steve Murray
Steve Murray
1 year ago
Reply to  J Bryant

Yes, a wonderful evisceration of the woke agenda. The remaining skin should be put on permanent display in the museum of the internet, with footnotes for future generations to glance at whilst pretending they know what they’re looking at.

Ian Johnston
Ian Johnston
1 year ago
Reply to  J Bryant

Wasn’t in Nietzsche who said that literally every human action can ultimately be explained by the rather simple will to power ?

Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
1 year ago
Reply to  J Bryant

Surprisingly woke, though. Why so understanding about the idea that “Museums encode a hierarchical power relation between observer and exhibit, and another secondly between curator and visitor.” and, implicitly that some alternative is possible? Why take seriously the concept of a ‘power relation’ between a museum visitor and a pottery fragment?

Russell Hamilton
Russell Hamilton
1 year ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

Exactly, ‘sometimes, a cigar is just a cigar’. The curator is a teacher, the visitor is a learner; good teachers excite and capture attention while imparting information – you can leave egos out of it mostly.

“Museums extend this worldview beyond the sciences, implying that this is what “learning” is: a detached, observing consciousness standing at a little distance from an object whose meaning is contained on a little sign’

No, we all know that learning happens in many ways, especially if we’ve had experience of music, or athletics.

” something violent, or violating, happens when an “exhibit” is removed from its social context and placed on display: a literal objectification, made only starker when it happens to a living person.”

Somehow made me think of those out of context, objectified. living persons up on the stage for Swan Lake. If that’s all you see in the ballet, you’ve missed the main point. Which is what ‘woke’ does: fastens on one aspect of a thing and blows it up to be the only important thing to be considered, missing entirely the really important things.

Mikis Hasson
Mikis Hasson
1 year ago

I agree. This article supposedly talks about the woke but is so woke itself it may be put in a museum in the future! Life is more simple: people like learning, seeing stuff and passing some idle hours acquiring stimuli. Museums often provide all of the above. A supply satisfies a demand and the only power game played is the same one between any consumer and their green grocer.

pat lowe
pat lowe
1 year ago

Yes, think of all those Renaissance and Medieval paintings torn out of the context of church. Impossible to restore to a social context of belief now. Beauty, a sense of the progression of history, inquisitiveness about the multifarious expression of the human spirit etc – such incommensurate considerations are not reducible to expressions of power alone.

Paul Nathanson
Paul Nathanson
1 year ago

Excellent reply.

Mikis Hasson
Mikis Hasson
1 year ago

I agree. This article supposedly talks about the woke but is so woke itself it may be put in a museum in the future! Life is more simple: people like learning, seeing stuff and passing some idle hours acquiring stimuli. Museums often provide all of the above. A supply satisfies a demand and the only power game played is the same one between any consumer and their green grocer.

pat lowe
pat lowe
1 year ago

Yes, think of all those Renaissance and Medieval paintings torn out of the context of church. Impossible to restore to a social context of belief now. Beauty, a sense of the progression of history, inquisitiveness about the multifarious expression of the human spirit etc – such incommensurate considerations are not reducible to expressions of power alone.

Paul Nathanson
Paul Nathanson
1 year ago

Excellent reply.

Linda Hutchinson
Linda Hutchinson
1 year ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

I agree that the power relation is not between the exhibit and the visitor, but it is between the exhibitor and the visitor. After all, the exhibitor decides what is to be put on display, how it is to be displayed, with what the item is juxaposed, and how it it labelled and what information is presented or left out. All of these factors (and probably more) affect how the visitor sees the item..

Russell Hamilton
Russell Hamilton
1 year ago

And power goes the other way too: the visitor can decide exhibitions aren’t for them and that can mean curator positions will be cut. The board of the gallery, and large donors, have power as well. There’s power flowing all over the place, the point is how important is that in the process, how important is that compared to what the expert curator is trying to share (their passion and knowledge) with the wider community? The other aspects need to be raised and considered, but the important thing is the quality of the exhibition and what the public gains from it.

Linda Hutchinson
Linda Hutchinson
1 year ago

I have great respect for the expert curator, however, a visitor should always be aware that the curator’s view, or more often the museum governor’s view, is being presented. I suppose what I am saying is don’t be a passive consumer, think and question what is being presented. I have been known to embarrass some companions by challenging musem presentations, when I have knowledge of the particular period, but even without that knowledge one must always question.

Russell Hamilton
Russell Hamilton
1 year ago

Agree

Russell Hamilton
Russell Hamilton
1 year ago

Agree

Linda Hutchinson
Linda Hutchinson
1 year ago

I have great respect for the expert curator, however, a visitor should always be aware that the curator’s view, or more often the museum governor’s view, is being presented. I suppose what I am saying is don’t be a passive consumer, think and question what is being presented. I have been known to embarrass some companions by challenging musem presentations, when I have knowledge of the particular period, but even without that knowledge one must always question.

Russell Hamilton
Russell Hamilton
1 year ago

And power goes the other way too: the visitor can decide exhibitions aren’t for them and that can mean curator positions will be cut. The board of the gallery, and large donors, have power as well. There’s power flowing all over the place, the point is how important is that in the process, how important is that compared to what the expert curator is trying to share (their passion and knowledge) with the wider community? The other aspects need to be raised and considered, but the important thing is the quality of the exhibition and what the public gains from it.

Paul Nathanson
Paul Nathanson
1 year ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

Exactly. This article is thoroughly woke. It attacks wokism, sure, but only to take even that extreme ideology to a still more extreme conclusion. The question that we should be asking here is about “power relations” per se as the sole criterion for understanding human existence, which is the height of cynicism.

Russell Hamilton
Russell Hamilton
1 year ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

Exactly, ‘sometimes, a cigar is just a cigar’. The curator is a teacher, the visitor is a learner; good teachers excite and capture attention while imparting information – you can leave egos out of it mostly.

“Museums extend this worldview beyond the sciences, implying that this is what “learning” is: a detached, observing consciousness standing at a little distance from an object whose meaning is contained on a little sign’

No, we all know that learning happens in many ways, especially if we’ve had experience of music, or athletics.

” something violent, or violating, happens when an “exhibit” is removed from its social context and placed on display: a literal objectification, made only starker when it happens to a living person.”

Somehow made me think of those out of context, objectified. living persons up on the stage for Swan Lake. If that’s all you see in the ballet, you’ve missed the main point. Which is what ‘woke’ does: fastens on one aspect of a thing and blows it up to be the only important thing to be considered, missing entirely the really important things.

Linda Hutchinson
Linda Hutchinson
1 year ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

I agree that the power relation is not between the exhibit and the visitor, but it is between the exhibitor and the visitor. After all, the exhibitor decides what is to be put on display, how it is to be displayed, with what the item is juxaposed, and how it it labelled and what information is presented or left out. All of these factors (and probably more) affect how the visitor sees the item..

Paul Nathanson
Paul Nathanson
1 year ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

Exactly. This article is thoroughly woke. It attacks wokism, sure, but only to take even that extreme ideology to a still more extreme conclusion. The question that we should be asking here is about “power relations” per se as the sole criterion for understanding human existence, which is the height of cynicism.

Cho Jinn
Cho Jinn
1 year ago
Reply to  J Bryant

Precisely. They just want to be able to tell you what to do for its own sake.

Brett H
Brett H
1 year ago
Reply to  J Bryant

And they can only achieve this by wiping away, or ignoring, history which complicates their ideology.

Last edited 1 year ago by Brett H
Steve Murray
Steve Murray
1 year ago
Reply to  J Bryant

Yes, a wonderful evisceration of the woke agenda. The remaining skin should be put on permanent display in the museum of the internet, with footnotes for future generations to glance at whilst pretending they know what they’re looking at.

Ian Johnston
Ian Johnston
1 year ago
Reply to  J Bryant

Wasn’t in Nietzsche who said that literally every human action can ultimately be explained by the rather simple will to power ?

Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
1 year ago
Reply to  J Bryant

Surprisingly woke, though. Why so understanding about the idea that “Museums encode a hierarchical power relation between observer and exhibit, and another secondly between curator and visitor.” and, implicitly that some alternative is possible? Why take seriously the concept of a ‘power relation’ between a museum visitor and a pottery fragment?

Cho Jinn
Cho Jinn
1 year ago
Reply to  J Bryant

Precisely. They just want to be able to tell you what to do for its own sake.

J Bryant
J Bryant
1 year ago

A clever and scholarly essay that explains in a tightly-reasoned form what I’ve instinctively believed all along: wokeism is just a power grab.

Paul Blew
Paul Blew
1 year ago

Perhaps I’m just dim but….museums are like pre digital encyclopedias gathering and showing knowledge to people. My local museum is fantastic, showing the rich history of my town and area. Its the same for Wellcome, the only ‘power’ it has is that it is so diverse and broad in its exhibits and can bring together these artefacts to be seen.
Plus- how will it be rationalised sending back Bronzes to an originating monarchy and country/ continent that was the source of the slave trade by selling its own people?

Richard Pearse
Richard Pearse
1 year ago
Reply to  Paul Blew

Nice point, Paul: We have to remember that it is only the “West” who takes this interest in other Cultures, as an attempt to understand (1) our origins, Origen of the species, (2) how different other cultures are from our own.

There is also something almost sacred in the West about the “Original” object – we preserve the Parthenon (and Liberty Hall in Philadelphia etc), whereas the Japanese often rebuild a sacred temple from scratch to reproduce the way it looked, rather than the thing itself).

Query – what would have happened to those Grecian Urns carefully preserved and restored in, say, the Art Institute of Chicago, if they’d been left in the ground in Athens or Sparta? It would be dust, and all these Bronze reflects – melted into bullets? But now preserved for the world to see. The Rosetta Stone? If not taken by Napoleon, would Egypt still be trying to interpret the hieroglyphs?

Richard Pearse
Richard Pearse
1 year ago
Reply to  Paul Blew

Nice point, Paul: We have to remember that it is only the “West” who takes this interest in other Cultures, as an attempt to understand (1) our origins, Origen of the species, (2) how different other cultures are from our own.

There is also something almost sacred in the West about the “Original” object – we preserve the Parthenon (and Liberty Hall in Philadelphia etc), whereas the Japanese often rebuild a sacred temple from scratch to reproduce the way it looked, rather than the thing itself).

Query – what would have happened to those Grecian Urns carefully preserved and restored in, say, the Art Institute of Chicago, if they’d been left in the ground in Athens or Sparta? It would be dust, and all these Bronze reflects – melted into bullets? But now preserved for the world to see. The Rosetta Stone? If not taken by Napoleon, would Egypt still be trying to interpret the hieroglyphs?

Paul Blew
Paul Blew
1 year ago

Perhaps I’m just dim but….museums are like pre digital encyclopedias gathering and showing knowledge to people. My local museum is fantastic, showing the rich history of my town and area. Its the same for Wellcome, the only ‘power’ it has is that it is so diverse and broad in its exhibits and can bring together these artefacts to be seen.
Plus- how will it be rationalised sending back Bronzes to an originating monarchy and country/ continent that was the source of the slave trade by selling its own people?

Dominic A
Dominic A
1 year ago

I look forward to the day when the terms ‘woke’, and ‘problematic’ are merely artefacts to be read, under the soft flickering gaslight of the Museum of Rhetoric.

Dominic A
Dominic A
1 year ago

I look forward to the day when the terms ‘woke’, and ‘problematic’ are merely artefacts to be read, under the soft flickering gaslight of the Museum of Rhetoric.

Matt M
Matt M
1 year ago

This Dan Hicks seems like a barrel of laughs.

Alphonse Pfarti
Alphonse Pfarti
1 year ago
Reply to  Matt M

I’m now genuinely thankful that I passed many a mildly hungover Saturday afternoon in the ‘classic’ incarnation of the Pitt-Rivers before this humourless clown ruined it. I recall thinking that the writing was on the wall when several artefacts were returned and his predecessor declared that tribal ‘knowledge systems’ (specifically smoking a pipe and convening with the spirit world) were as valid as Western ones. Clearly not a graduate of computer science or medicine then.

Last edited 1 year ago by Alphonse Pfarti
Alphonse Pfarti
Alphonse Pfarti
1 year ago
Reply to  Matt M

I’m now genuinely thankful that I passed many a mildly hungover Saturday afternoon in the ‘classic’ incarnation of the Pitt-Rivers before this humourless clown ruined it. I recall thinking that the writing was on the wall when several artefacts were returned and his predecessor declared that tribal ‘knowledge systems’ (specifically smoking a pipe and convening with the spirit world) were as valid as Western ones. Clearly not a graduate of computer science or medicine then.

Last edited 1 year ago by Alphonse Pfarti
Matt M
Matt M
1 year ago

This Dan Hicks seems like a barrel of laughs.

Bill Wainwright
Bill Wainwright
1 year ago

“It says: I, the curator, am in command of what’s knowable about this thing, which you observe from a distance while absorbing facts about it.”

Change the word curator to author and the sentiment works for books, too. We live in a world where willful ignorance is celebrated as enlightenment.

Bill Wainwright
Bill Wainwright
1 year ago

“It says: I, the curator, am in command of what’s knowable about this thing, which you observe from a distance while absorbing facts about it.”

Change the word curator to author and the sentiment works for books, too. We live in a world where willful ignorance is celebrated as enlightenment.

laurence scaduto
laurence scaduto
1 year ago

Perhaps I’m alone in this but I would rather see just the simplest labels. No label or catalog entry could ever allow me to truly know the Benin bronzes (for instance); who made them, why, to what purpose, by what method. And there’s always the question of what other purposes they were put to during their long lives. Questions about how they wound up in London pale in comparison and rob the crafts-people and their culture of the credit they deserve. The “power struggle” between me (the observer) and the curator (jack-booted thug of the patriarchy) is a comical idea; best ignored. “Explanations” that drag up someone else’s pet peeves are not welcome.
To really appreciate the artistry, the almost in-human wonder of the things, they should be left to speak for themselves.

laurence scaduto
laurence scaduto
1 year ago

Perhaps I’m alone in this but I would rather see just the simplest labels. No label or catalog entry could ever allow me to truly know the Benin bronzes (for instance); who made them, why, to what purpose, by what method. And there’s always the question of what other purposes they were put to during their long lives. Questions about how they wound up in London pale in comparison and rob the crafts-people and their culture of the credit they deserve. The “power struggle” between me (the observer) and the curator (jack-booted thug of the patriarchy) is a comical idea; best ignored. “Explanations” that drag up someone else’s pet peeves are not welcome.
To really appreciate the artistry, the almost in-human wonder of the things, they should be left to speak for themselves.

Richard Barrett
Richard Barrett
1 year ago

I cannot see why all artifacts must only be exhibited in their original locations. Could we not have the Mona Lisa housed in an African museum, or move some Rembrandt paintings to Singapore? Lets start thinking about a glorious world wide mix and match of great works of human achievement.

Richard Barrett
Richard Barrett
1 year ago

I cannot see why all artifacts must only be exhibited in their original locations. Could we not have the Mona Lisa housed in an African museum, or move some Rembrandt paintings to Singapore? Lets start thinking about a glorious world wide mix and match of great works of human achievement.

Mark Vernon
Mark Vernon
1 year ago

All very well said, thank you. Reminds me of hearing that some people leave offerings to certain religious objects in the British Museum, or bow as they pass by, in an attempt to acknowledge the original participatory context, a church or temple.

I suppose the museum is a manifestation of the death of God, as well as scientistic objectification.

Mark Vernon
Mark Vernon
1 year ago

All very well said, thank you. Reminds me of hearing that some people leave offerings to certain religious objects in the British Museum, or bow as they pass by, in an attempt to acknowledge the original participatory context, a church or temple.

I suppose the museum is a manifestation of the death of God, as well as scientistic objectification.

Methadras Aszlosis
Methadras Aszlosis
1 year ago

I’m a split fan of archeology, but archeology in the sense of inorganic things that are found in prior civilizations; pottery, clothing; jewelry, etc. What I’m not a fan of is the archeology of the dead. Often times we see the dead from prior civilizations on display. From mummies to ancient peoples found in ice and everything else in between. This is akin to grave robbing and it has to stop. I’m not afraid of death or getting freaked out about seeing dead bodies, but the idea that archeologists can go digging around, see the dead and then think they can disturb and remove the body and then put it on display and make money from it is macabre and disgusting and it needs to stop.
Also, I believe zoos should become extinct. If you want to engage in biology or zoology, then do it in the wild, take videos, make it a show, then put it out in media. Capturing animals, putting them in enclosures, charging people to see them, and making an entire industry from them under the guise that you’re saving them is another repugnant. If you want to conduct genetic revitalization of a species, you don’t need a zoo to do it. Capture the species, extract the DNA you need, release it back into the wild, and go do your experiments in a lab onsite or offsite.

Linda Hutchinson
Linda Hutchinson
1 year ago

At one time putting bodies on display didn’t worry me, afterall they’re dead, but gradually I started to become uncomfortable with this treatment of “our ancestors”. These people were buried, often with the rituals that they and their families believed in, at times in land that was sacred to them or sanctified; for us to dig them up and stare at them in a musem is, as you say, macabre, whether or not they make money from it. I do understand that information can be gained from bodies, but if they are to be disturbed then the remains should be treated with repect and they should be reburied. It can be difficult to give them the riruals of long forgotten religions, but I have seen that remains of people who were probably Christian (judging by their burials) have been reinterred with Christian rites, if they were not obviously Chritian perhaps some other way can be found to honour the original intentions.

Linda Hutchinson
Linda Hutchinson
1 year ago

At one time putting bodies on display didn’t worry me, afterall they’re dead, but gradually I started to become uncomfortable with this treatment of “our ancestors”. These people were buried, often with the rituals that they and their families believed in, at times in land that was sacred to them or sanctified; for us to dig them up and stare at them in a musem is, as you say, macabre, whether or not they make money from it. I do understand that information can be gained from bodies, but if they are to be disturbed then the remains should be treated with repect and they should be reburied. It can be difficult to give them the riruals of long forgotten religions, but I have seen that remains of people who were probably Christian (judging by their burials) have been reinterred with Christian rites, if they were not obviously Chritian perhaps some other way can be found to honour the original intentions.

Methadras Aszlosis
Methadras Aszlosis
1 year ago

I’m a split fan of archeology, but archeology in the sense of inorganic things that are found in prior civilizations; pottery, clothing; jewelry, etc. What I’m not a fan of is the archeology of the dead. Often times we see the dead from prior civilizations on display. From mummies to ancient peoples found in ice and everything else in between. This is akin to grave robbing and it has to stop. I’m not afraid of death or getting freaked out about seeing dead bodies, but the idea that archeologists can go digging around, see the dead and then think they can disturb and remove the body and then put it on display and make money from it is macabre and disgusting and it needs to stop.
Also, I believe zoos should become extinct. If you want to engage in biology or zoology, then do it in the wild, take videos, make it a show, then put it out in media. Capturing animals, putting them in enclosures, charging people to see them, and making an entire industry from them under the guise that you’re saving them is another repugnant. If you want to conduct genetic revitalization of a species, you don’t need a zoo to do it. Capture the species, extract the DNA you need, release it back into the wild, and go do your experiments in a lab onsite or offsite.

Edward De Beukelaer
Edward De Beukelaer
1 year ago

In the context of this article it is worth reading : The matter with Things (Iain McGilchrist, yes it is 1300 pages but worth every second of reading..) .
Because, of course, this article is about ‘things’. And whereas ‘things’ have been very highly valued in recent human history we are now spending more time in attaching the narratives to ‘things’, … to increase their sense. Initially tentatively but efforts are increasing. This brings discussions and tensions between those who see everything in things and those who see everything in stories. The discussion will go on forever as there will be humans. There is no right or wrong, what is wrong is not having the discussion and listening to the other argument.
It is noticeable that in eastern language ‘things’ are not named but described by a verb; they become through an action. (McGilchrist…)
The bother here is the Welcome trust. Another philanthropic organisation mainly interested in polishing the status of the pharma industry while continuing to invest in medicine only for financial returns….

Edward De Beukelaer
Edward De Beukelaer
1 year ago

In the context of this article it is worth reading : The matter with Things (Iain McGilchrist, yes it is 1300 pages but worth every second of reading..) .
Because, of course, this article is about ‘things’. And whereas ‘things’ have been very highly valued in recent human history we are now spending more time in attaching the narratives to ‘things’, … to increase their sense. Initially tentatively but efforts are increasing. This brings discussions and tensions between those who see everything in things and those who see everything in stories. The discussion will go on forever as there will be humans. There is no right or wrong, what is wrong is not having the discussion and listening to the other argument.
It is noticeable that in eastern language ‘things’ are not named but described by a verb; they become through an action. (McGilchrist…)
The bother here is the Welcome trust. Another philanthropic organisation mainly interested in polishing the status of the pharma industry while continuing to invest in medicine only for financial returns….

CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
1 year ago

Thank you for a most interesting essay.
However I was surprised that you didn’t mention that famous even infamous ‘cause celebre’* the Warren Cup.

Impounded by the US Customs in 1953 and later even refused entry, it is a 1st century, silver, Roman drinking cup that portrays, to lapse into the vernacular, explicit scenes of ‘botty banditry.’

Fortunately it is now in the British Museum.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Warren_Cup

(* Apologies to France, I-pad doesn’t do accents)

Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
1 year ago

EéÚàÄãßÔĂČöĂčĂŒ. On my I-pad. You just hold down the vowel keys and you get a choice.

CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
1 year ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

MĂ ny thĂ nks!
Another gĂźant leap for mankĂ­nd!

Alphonse Pfarti
Alphonse Pfarti
1 year ago

Mr. WheĂątlĂ©y retĂŒrns! Seems to work on the iPhone also. Cheers!

Alphonse Pfarti
Alphonse Pfarti
1 year ago

Mr. WheĂątlĂ©y retĂŒrns! Seems to work on the iPhone also. Cheers!

CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
1 year ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

MĂ ny thĂ nks!
Another gĂźant leap for mankĂ­nd!

Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
1 year ago

EéÚàÄãßÔĂČöĂčĂŒ. On my I-pad. You just hold down the vowel keys and you get a choice.

CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
1 year ago

Thank you for a most interesting essay.
However I was surprised that you didn’t mention that famous even infamous ‘cause celebre’* the Warren Cup.

Impounded by the US Customs in 1953 and later even refused entry, it is a 1st century, silver, Roman drinking cup that portrays, to lapse into the vernacular, explicit scenes of ‘botty banditry.’

Fortunately it is now in the British Museum.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Warren_Cup

(* Apologies to France, I-pad doesn’t do accents)

Jeff Butcher
Jeff Butcher
1 year ago

A fine article written with verve and feeling. Many thanks!

Jeff Butcher
Jeff Butcher
1 year ago

A fine article written with verve and feeling. Many thanks!

Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
1 year ago

Ultimately all human relationships are ‘power relationships’ and always will be. It’s a useless concept.

D.C. Harris
D.C. Harris
1 year ago

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Last edited 1 year ago by D.C. Harris
D.C. Harris
D.C. Harris
1 year ago

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Last edited 1 year ago by D.C. Harris
stu clarke
stu clarke
1 year ago

Pax Americana? Even today the US is waging a proxy war in Ukraine.

Colin Elliott
Colin Elliott
1 year ago
Reply to  stu clarke

So what do you call it that Russia is waging?

Colin Elliott
Colin Elliott
1 year ago
Reply to  stu clarke

So what do you call it that Russia is waging?

stu clarke
stu clarke
1 year ago

Pax Americana? Even today the US is waging a proxy war in Ukraine.