The British Museum hosts some of the UK’s most treasured artifacts. However, a number of US and Canadian visitors have left unhappy, disappointed, or angry reviews online about the site. Some complained about the facilities, while others hit out at the colonial history of some of the treasures.
Some visitors went so far as to suggest there is very little British history in the museum at all as so much of it seems to come from elsewhere in the world. Jacob, a reviewer from Erie, Pennsylvania wrote: “Actually, most of the art in there is stolen from countries around the world. The history in this museum is international and not British.
Jacob added he was: “Really disappointed when I saw whole stones and arts from other countries making the Musem looking full.” Others expressed the same sentiments.
Adriana S, from Vancouver, Canada, wrote: “A comprehensive museum with an overview of many different epochs. They need to revise some of the content from the colonial art to reflect the great damage colonialism inflected in indigenous communities.”
Sarah called the collection: “Just a bunch of stuff Britain stole from the rest of the world.”
She added: “I thought it would have more exhibits about British history, as it’s called the British Museum. Nice area of London though and nice building.”
Another, from Cedar Falls, Iowa, posted: “My husband, the history buff, was really looking forward to visiting the British Museum. It was not enjoyable at all. There was history from every other country, but not much British history. Too many people too.”
Debbie M wrote: “This honestly seemed more like a display of all the things that Britons found on their world travels, like the UK’s attic on display. There are some real treasures here, I just hope that someday they’ll be displayed in their proper context.”
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Not all had qualms with Britain’s empire past and its artifacts, however. A Dallas visitor wrote the museum is “chaos”. They said: “Second visit to this museum. Both times complete chaos. Very difficult to navigate through historical rooms. Load and crowded.”
Another reviewer, Xculap from Pasadena, California, wrote it “looks like (the British Museum) need to invest more to work on manners and customer service of their security guards, especially in the morning and in the front entrance.
“Not that people wait in huge line and hours before they can enter, but being treated with very rude manners and as cattle in stock by security guards. Totally not acceptable for a cultural institution.”
The British Museum created, in 2020, the self-guided tour “Empire and Collecting”. The self-guided tour is designed to highlight colonialism. The “trail”, which takes visitors to 21 artifacts, explains “the different, complex and sometimes controversial journeys of objects that would become part of the Museum collection.”
The 60 to 70-minute tour includes examinations of items such as the lion statues of Amenhotep III, donated to the museum by Algernon Percy who took it home from a trip to Sudan in 1829.
Other items have similar fascinating histories. The Potlatch Kwakwaka’wakw mask from Canada (currently on loan) was seized by Canadian authorities during a potlatch ceremony. These ceremonies were illegal at the time, in 1921. It was sold by the Canadians to a private collator who donated it to the British museum.
A military tunic was taken from Sudan in 1898 as a “spoil of war” and a stool from the Bahamas was made by the Indigenous Taino people, found by James Thompson, an enslaved man, who sold it to a missionary. That missionary donated it to the museum in 1918.
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