A new kind of museum: a new kind of citizen
Neil MacGregor, Director, British Museum
On this day, 260 years ago, the British Museum – as we know it – came into being: on 7 June 1753, the first British Museum Act received royal assent, and the first public national museum in the world was established.
It’s worth pausing to reflect on what a revolutionary moment this was. Until that June day in 1753, collections of objects like ours were the preserve of royalty, or private gentlemen. The decision by the British Parliament to acquire and display the collection of some 80,000 objects collected by the physician Sir Hans Sloane was truly extraordinary. And it’s a point worth celebrating 260 years later.
[When the British Museum was established,] Parliament was proclaiming the right of every citizen to information. Everybody was to be enabled to explore their place in the world, in a collection which embraced the whole world, free of charge. Knowledge was no longer to be the privilege of a few. … The result of this new institution, it was believed, would be a new kind of citizen – free, informed and equipped for independent thought.
There are tons of things I could say, could comment, here, but, I’ve spoken about the British Museum before, and will do so again, and so for today, all I will say is congratulations to this wonderful institution – keep up the good work, keep serving as a shining model of all that a 21st century museum can be, and I hope to visit again soon.