Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Tom Flynn Blames the Museums

In a thought provoking text, not wholly sympathetic to archaeologists (because object centred), Tom Flynn considers an old text of Richard Elia about collecting in which he discusses the "myths of collecting", while these are familiar to the readers of the blogs and forums, Flynn draws attention to what Elia does not say. He notes that
it is first and foremost the museum community that operates on the basis of a particular mythology that explains, justifies, and validates the collecting of antiquities. The essential elements of this mythology have been in place for the better part of two centuries and constitute a bulwark against outside criticism and an increasingly inconvenient corpus of facts.
It is, he argues, this which forms the background to the formation of the "particular mythology" which we have all seen lies behind the no-questions-asked collectors' and dealers' feeble attempts to justify their erosive commercial activities. Indeed we have seen the alacrity with which the collecting crowd have recently seized on (and for their own use totally misrepresented) Cuno's arguments for the encyclopedic museum, and in particular what Flynn describes as the museums'
prejudiced and anachronistic condemnation of a notional 'nationalism' as the main motivation of source nations seeking dominion over their own heritage.
adding that the BM's McGregor's "History of the World in 100 Objects" is just "wretched propaganda". We have seen how the collectors' "rights" advocates have been keen to promote themselves as "internationalists", blissfully unaware of the irony of the coincidence of the name and its slogans with a totally different kind of "Internationalism" (so much for their grasp on history).

I am not in general a great fan of muddling "repatriation issues" (ie, returning cultural property snatched away by one means or another, fair and foul, pre-1970) with the issue of modern commercially-inspired looting. These are totally different issues, this blog has tended to concentrate on the latter and the false arguments intended to maintain the commercial status quo as long as possible as it is a problem which concerns me more. The fact that they tend to be muddled I think is in part deliberately engineered by the Dark Side to confuse the issue. Flynn's arguments (of course) however make sense, museums, in pursuing their own aims are abrogating their responsibilities in encouraging the growth of the false mythology of no-questions-asked antiquities collecting.

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