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Imperial Archives: French and British Museology from the 'Land of Lost Gods'

Abstract

This paper discusses some of the ways that museological activities in France and Britain (in the Louvre and the British Museum) were aligned with the human sciences to offer new commentaries about the development and maintenance of civilisation—both ancient and modern. During what I partly anachronistically refer to as the ‘revolutionary’ decades—the 1790s to the 1810s (a reference I stick to because it falls in the middle of Eric Hobsbawm’s ‘Age of Revolution’)—British and French commentators chose to represent ancient civilisation in such a way as to show that they were respectively the inheritors of the ancient principles of virtue, liberty, and democracy. Today, I sketch the apparent associations that were made between the civility of the ancients and the self-defined civility of modern imperial rulers, the missionaries of the civilising process of the rest of the world.

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