Access to Museum Culture: the British Museum from 1753 to by Derek Cash

By Derek Cash

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Extra resources for Access to Museum Culture: the British Museum from 1753 to 1836

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In the seventeenth century the public referred to the theatrical audience in France and consisted of an elite group of people associated with court life and a small group of people whose origins were non-aristocratic and mercantile. By the eighteenth century in Paris and London ‘the public’ came to include bourgeois people, and because there were so many bourgeois in both cities, the public encompassed family and close friends, acquaintances and strangers. 43 The trustees had spent a great deal of time determining who should have access to the Museum.

They represented learning and education for the Muse, and they signified to the visitor an institution for scholarly purposes. Because the trustees interpreted the British Museum as a place for research, they accorded the facilities most readily to `learned and studious men'. At one of the earliest General Meetings (14 January 1754) the trustees established a committee to frame rules for visiting and inspecting the Museum. During the course of the three years that it took to devise the rules, they prepared a draft in 1755 that clearly indicated whom the Museum was for.

Substantial thought and time went into the policies. The trustees considered the foundation and functions of the Museum, the public and the trustees’ obligations to serve them, the protection of the collection, and the importance of museum rules. By the nineteenth century access at the British Museum bore little resemblance to Kenneth Hudson's description of an eighteenth-century museum or the British Museum of 1759, while attitudes concerning access remained virtually unchanged. In April 1754 the trustees had agreed to purchase Montagu House, and the Committee for establishing statutes and rules began drawing up rules for visiting the Museum.

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