The British Museum actually started out as a private collection to Sir Hans Sloane. Over his lifetime, he collected over 71,000 objects. To make sure the collection would be taken care of, he bequethed the entire collection to King George II in return for £20,000 to his heirs. After that, Parliment established the British Museum. Over the years, the British Museum housed so many more objects that separate museums and libraries were opened, such as the Natural History Museum. The museum was bombed during World War II, but the more valuable artifacts were moved to the Aldgate Tubestation and later transported to Wales. Today, the museum is free to the public and welcomes over 6 million visitors a year.
While at the British Museum, my class visited the British Museum Archives. I didn't know what to expect when we got there. I was assuming old documents or artifacts, and what we saw where old documents and artifacts, but not what most people would expect. The Archivist, Stephanie, explained that the Archives houses six records: Staff, Building Plans for the museum, Finance, Government, Temporary Exhibitions, and information on the Reading Room. The Archives take care of the records that pertain to the British Museum over the years.
If somebody wanted to find out what was donated by whom or when, those records should be there in the Book of Presents or the Meeting Minutes, some dating back to when the Museum was opened. The Archives also has the Library card signatures in a book or on note cards for when a patron signed up to use the Library. The Library has now moved to the British Library, but the Archives still have the signatures. Yeah, it is kinda boring, but it's helpful to researchers to see where a person was living at the time and who was their recommendation for using the library at the British Museum. While there, we got to see Karl Marx signature to know he used the library and how many times he signed up to use it, which was cool. I'm not a huge Karl Marx fan, but over the years I keep encountering Karl Marx things, like where he was born, now I'm in the city he lived, saw where he came to read, and will probably visit he grave while in London. Go figure!
We also saw photographs of how the museum looked when it held the animals that now make up the Natural History Museum. We also saw the temporary exhibit folder that showed King Tut. It was okay, but Stephanie showed us another example that had wall colors and the type of fabric used for the seating.
The Archives itself was crammed with books and boxes, but it's okay for the amount of staff who are working there-3! All the information is in acid-free boxes and folders and is labeled. The old documents that are in book forms crammed the shelfs, but I don't know if they're are in acid-free paper between the pages. The staff of the British Museum Archives was very sweet and willing to help if you had any questions.
To learn more about the British Museum, please visit the www.britishmuseum.org
Photograph courtesy of Wikipedia