The British Museum: An Imperial Museum in a Post-Imperial World

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Emily Duthie


This article examines the British Museum’s imperialist attitudes towards classical heritage. Despite considerable pressure from foreign governments, the museum has consistently refused to return art and antiquities that it acquired under the aegis of empire. It is the contention of this article that the British Museum remains an imperialist institution. The current debates over the British Museum’s collections raise profound questions about the relationship between museums and modern nation states and their nationalist claims to ancient heritage. The museum’s inflexible response to repatriation claims also encapsulates the challenges inherent in presenting empire and its legacy to contemporary, post-imperial audiences.

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Author Biography

Emily Duthie, Australian National University

Emily Duthie is a doctoral research student at the Australian National University, working on a thesis which will examine the London settlement house movement and its relationship to Empire in the Late Victorian and Edwardian period. She achieved First Class Honours at the University of Queensland in 2009.


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