RHS AGM and Presidential Address 2019

Enlightenment Gallery, British Museum. London. Credit: Derwisz via Flickr. Reproduced under terms of CC BY-SA-NC 2.0 Licence (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/).

Friday 6 December 2019 at 6.00 pm
Venue: JZ Young Lecture Theatre, Anatomy Building, UCL


Professor Margot Finn (UCL)

‘Material Turns in British History III: Collecting: Colonial Bombay, Basra, Baghdad and the Enlightenment Museum’

To be followed by a Reception in the UCL North Cloisters, showcasing the Society’s new open access book series, New Historical Perspectives.


Museums lay at the heart of the European Enlightenment project, and today share its conflicted, questionable claims to universalism.  This lecture explores the early nineteenth-century colonial collecting practices that brought material objects from ancient Mespotamia into the Enlightenment Gallery of the British Museum.  It focuses on Mary (1789-1876) and Claudius (1786/87-1821) Rich, a married couple whose Enlightenment collecting under the aegis of the East India Company extended from Bombay, Basra, Baghdad and Babylon to London.  It asks what happens to our understanding of the ‘universal’ museum if we acknowledge both that there were women in the Enlightenment and that imperialising British Enlightenment women contributed actively to the colonial collecting cultures that continue to animate museum exhibition strategies today.  By adopting this vantage point, the lecture integrates analysis of colonial collecting cultures with some preliminary reflections on potential next steps for the twenty-first-century agenda of decolonising the museum.

The lecture will be held in the JZ Young Lecture Theatre in the Anatomy Building, Gower Street, UCL (please note that this is not in the usual venue, the Gustave Tuck Lecture Theatre). The entrance to the Anatomy Building is 240 metres south of Euston Road/Euston Square Tube, on the east side of Gower Street, between University Street and Torrington Place. There is step-free access and the lecture theatre is at street level, directly ahead as you enter the building. A location map is available here. For full accessibility information please see here.

Royal Historical Society AGM
The lecture will be preceded by the Royal Historical Society’s AGM. This begins at 5:45pm.  Attendees for both the AGM and Lecture are welcome to enter the JZ Young Lecture Theatre from 5:30pm onwards (including during the business of the AGM).

A reception will follow the lecture in the UCL North Cloisters, showcasing the Society’s new open access book series, New Historical Perspectives.