Event Date: 6 December 2019
JZ Young Lecture Theatre
Anatomy Building, UCL Campus, Gower Street
London WC1E 6BT
The Royal Historical Society presents:
Presidential Address 2019
Professor Margot Finn (UCL) – Material Turns in British History III: Collecting: Colonial Bombay, Basra, Baghdad and the Enlightenment Museum
Museums lay at the heart of the European Enlightenment project, and today share its conflicted, questionable claims to universalism. This lecture explores the early nineteenth-century colonial collecting practices that brought material objects from ancient Mesopotamia into the Enlightenment Gallery of the British Museum. It focuses on Mary (1789-1876) and Claudius (1786/87-1821) Rich, a married couple whose Enlightenment collecting under the aegis of the East India Company extended from Bombay, Basra, Baghdad and Babylon to London. It asks what happens to our understanding of the ‘universal’ museum if we acknowledge both that there were women in the Enlightenment and that imperialising British Enlightenment women contributed actively to the colonial collecting cultures that continue to animate museum exhibition strategies today. By adopting this vantage point, the lecture integrates analysis of colonial collecting cultures with some preliminary reflections on potential next steps for the twenty-first-century agenda of decolonising the museum.