UC Berkeley Essays and Articles Title Imperial Archives: French and British Museology from the 'Land of Lost Gods' Publication Date

Author Dolan, Brian
1998 unpublished
History is a gallery of pictures in which there are few originals and many copies.' Alexis de Tocqueville, L'Ancien régime (1856) Recently, historians' attention has turned to particular sites where the production of new forms of knowledge has taken place, whether medical theatres, laboratories, even estate houses, and indeed museums. Some philosophers and historians, notably Michel Foucault, and more recently the historian of medicine John Pickstone, have discussed how new forms of knowledge
more » ... orms of knowledge of the late eighteenth century can be related to the coeval development of what have been called 'museological' studies. Museological is a concept which refers in part to new analytical practices that developed at that time, including systems of taxonomy and classification, an encyclopaedic approach to the order of knowledge, the systematic display and comparison of the natural and artefactual world, and the comparison between ancient and modern societies. During the revolutionary decades, all these different activities overlapped with artistic and political narratives which defined the ostensible function of museums. In this paper I'd like to discuss some of the ways that museological activities in France and Britain (in the Louvre and the British Museum) were aligned with the human sciences to offer new commentaries about the development and maintenance of civilisation-both ancient and modern. During what I partly anachronistically refer to as the 'revolutionary' decades-the 1790s to the 1810s (a reference I stick to because it falls in the middle of Eric Hobsbawm's 'Age of Revolution')-British and French commentators chose to represent ancient civilisation in such a way as to show that they were respectively the inheritors of the ancient principles of virtue, liberty, and democracy. Today, I sketch the apparent associations that were made between the civility of the ancients and the self-defined civility of modern imperial rulers, the missionaries of the civilising process of the rest of the world.