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Reclaiming History in the British Museum Entranceway: Imperialism, Patronage and Female, Queer and Black Legacies

Hahn, Catherine (2023) Reclaiming History in the British Museum Entranceway: Imperialism, Patronage and Female, Queer and Black Legacies. Rethinking History: The Journal of Theory and Practice, . ISSN 1364-2529. E-ISSN 1470-1154. (doi:10.1080/13642529.2023.2184966) (KAR id:100883)


Today the British Museum (BM) entranceway consecrates imperialism and patronage. Undertaken as a journey, this paper reclaims its invisible female, queer and black legacies. In recent years there has been widespread acknowledgement that the BM needs to address its role in the British Empire. Yet, in the twenty-first century, the museum has shored up its imperial inheritance through its refurbished entranceway: the Weston Great Hall and Queen Elizabeth II Great Court. In these introductory chambers, imperialism provides the backdrop for the contemporary donors’ names and exclusive corporate events. Here, museum heritage has become an arrow that signals progress through economic capital. I argue that the BM’s reinforcement of its imperial legacy in the twenty-first century has come at the expense of other claims. Exploration of the historic entranceway shows it facilitated visitors’ long-term engagement through artmaking on-site and the (now closed) Reading Room. Female, queer and black participants undertook creative, transgressive and political activities that led to social change. Anne Seymour Damer, Joel Augustus Rogers and Virginia Woolf developed practices that have particular significance for the museum. Reclaiming hidden female, queer and black legacies in the entranceway points to future inclusions. Importantly, these reclaimed histories are not quiet, counter moments pulled from the corners of the BM’s vast estate; rather, they once took centre stage.

Item Type: Article
DOI/Identification number: 10.1080/13642529.2023.2184966
Uncontrolled keywords: The British Museum, imperialism, patronage, heritage, Anne Damer, Joel Augustus Rogers
Subjects: D History General and Old World > DA Great Britain
H Social Sciences > H Social Sciences (General)
N Visual Arts > NX Arts in general
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Arts and Humanities > School of Arts
Funders: UK Research and Innovation (
Depositing User: Catherine Hahn
Date Deposited: 13 Apr 2023 14:05 UTC
Last Modified: 04 Mar 2024 15:36 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)

University of Kent Author Information

Hahn, Catherine.

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