The British Museum has hired a curator to delve into the history of its eight million objects, many of which were obtained during the colonial era.
Historian Dr Isobel MacDonald is to lead the museum’s History of Collection research, by examining how objects have arrived in the museum since its foundation.
Several of the items in the museum’s collection are subject to claims, including the Parthenon Marbles, which were taken from Greece, the Benin Bronzes, the Rosetta Stone and the four-tonne Hoa Hakananai’a statue from Easter Island.
According to The Art Newspaper, although claims are being made for artefacts such as the Parthenon Marbles, the new curator has a wider brief to examine more general issues relating to the past acquisitions.
A British Museum spokesperson said “it is not the purpose of this role to examine the specific histories of contested objects,” although the project “will cover areas of the collection that include contested objects.”
“This means it is likely that issues such as the role of the slave trade and empire…will be relevant to some of the research undertaken,” the spokesperson adds.
“The primary purpose is to carry out a high-level analysis of the history of the collection. It will look at the wider patterns of how different types of objects from different parts of the world entered the collection and place those in a broader historical context.”
Until last year, MacDonald was a teaching assistant in Art History at the University of Glasgow, following her doctorate there on William Burrell (1861-1958) as a collector.
She hopes that the British Museum project will “develop a different way to look at the history of such an important institution that will allow us to better understand how the collection came together.”
MacDonald’s research should provide important background—and her work will no doubt be closely monitored by claimants.