A final excerpt from “The Return of Cultural Treasures” by Jeanette Greenfield

The project for which ATR was created comes to a close tomorrow. Though it is by no means the end of my writing this blog, I did want to conclude this first phase with one last excerpt from The Return of Cultural Treasures. It is a quote from 19th-century American author Nathaniel Hawthorne.

[Yesterday] … I visited the British Museum; an exceedingly tiresome affair. It quite crushes a person to see so much at once; and I wandered from hall to hall, with a weary and heavy heart, wishing (Heaven forgive me!) that the Elgin marbles and the frieze of the Parthenon were all burnt into lime, and that the granitic Egyptian statues were hewn and squared into building-stones, and that the mummies had all turned to dust, two thousand years ago; and, in time, that all the material relics of so many successive ages had disappeared with the generations that produced them. The present is too much burdened with the past. We have not time, in our earthly existence, to appreciate what is warm with life, and immediately around us; yet we heap up all these old shells out of which human life has long emerged, casting them off forever. I do not see how future ages are to stagger onward under all this dead weight, with the additions that will be continually made to it.

With all due respect to Mr. Hawthorne, I think the past is a noble and useful thing to examine, but I agree that putting so much emphasis on old things, to put it bluntly, can be detrimental. Both to the museum, who can forget that some objects in its collection are related to real, living people, but also to the indigenous community trying to get this ‘old stuff’ back, who is in danger of forgetting that their culture is evolving and that they must look into the future as much as they do into the past.

[[Hi Sue! Feel free to navigate the site however you like, but in case you want to read it chronologically, go to the first post and follow the links forward.]]


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