British Museum’s Reading Room, what will happen?


This video says about itself:

Reading Room of the British Museum

16 April 2007

The British Museum in London is one of the world’s greatest museums of human history and culture. Its collections number more than 13 million objects from all continents. The centre of the museum was redeveloped in 2000 to become the Great Court, surrounding the original Reading Room.

By Jack the Blaster in London, England:

What future for the British Museum‘s reading room which inspired Karl Marx?

Friday 31st July 2015

THE British Museum opened a new wing last year which cost £135 million to build and was designed by New Labour’s favourite “starchitect,” Sir Richard Rogers.

The museum was thrilled to announce a purpose-built exhibition area providing the public with a new way of looking at its treasures.

But as the debate as to whether our museums should be allowed to charge an entrance fee raises its head again — the new wing is used for ticket-only events — the British Museum faces a tricky question as to what it now does with one of the greatest assets it possesses.

It is not an artefact pillaged by a Victorian grave-robber, but Sir Sydney Smirke’s astonishing round reading room, found in the very centre of the museum.

Built in 1852 and based on Rome’s Pantheon, it gave Karl Marx a desk, its shelves were browsed by Lenin, and was the place for Victorian novelists such as Bram Stoker and Conan Doyle to be seen slaving over their manuscripts, and later other writers such as the Bloomsbury set.

To construct what was originally the main reading room for the British Library, Smirke used cast iron and concrete — ground-breaking construction techniques for the time.

Its spectacular interior boasts huge windows that flood leather-topped desks with natural light. Shelves packed with tomes curve gently round the walls and history seeps from every nook and cranny.

We can also assume it is in fairly good nick. It was spruced up by a three-year renovation programme after the library’s 1997 move to new headquarters in nearby Euston Road, its original decorative scheme reinstated and post-war additions removed. Desks were discreetly updated so computers can be used.

From 2007 until last year the museum used it as a temporary place to host ticket-only blockbuster exhibitions, including acclaimed shows as The First Emperor: China’s Terracotta Army and Life and Death in Pompeii.

But while its glorious history as a “temple to the deification of bibliography,” as one Victorian scholar described it, is celebrated, its future is not so certain.

The museum had temporary planning permission to shroud its beautiful features in scaffolding and planks during the construction of the new wing so it could host shows that cost more than a tenner to go and see.

It boosted income while wriggling round the free-entry rule. They said it was a temporary solution while the new wing was completed — but it seems the museum has no idea what happens next.

This is particularly important today, as new calls for museums to charge come at a time when access to public study spaces is under attack.

The idea that the state should fund libraries is increasingly being whittled away in this neoconservative age. Everything must have an immediately obvious economic cost and public services are seen as luxuries, not the corner stone of a civilised society.

Your correspondent has been asking the museum for five long years what the future holds for the room.

I have requested interviews with the directors in charge of its future — but been stonewalled. Instead, after regular badgering, press officers finally answered written questions.

Their answers were far from enlightening.

“The reading room is currently closed while the museum undertakes a programme of work to remove temporary exhibition staging,” they said — a case of stating the bleedin’ obvious.

What happens after this, nobody wants to discuss in any detail. The museum says a new director is to be appointed in 2016 after the current incumbent Neil MacGregor steps down, and then its fate will be considered.

“There are no specific ideas on the table,” the spokesman added. “It is a case of keeping an open mind and considering all options.”

This case of kicking the can down the road is concerning.

Surely MacGregor, widely praised for his stewardship of a collection that, to many, carries the distasteful whiff of Britain’s imperial past, should have a vision for this extraordinary room at the very heart of the institute?

It can only further heighten fears that spaces which can be used for coffer-boosting ticketed exhibitions are just too valuable to hand back to the public.

Surely with Bloomsbury’s massive student population facing further pressures on study space, and the neighbourhood’s schoolchildren — many living in crowded conditions where homework is a logistical issue — the room should be returned to its original role forthwith?

Support is out there. Museum trustee and Nobel prize-winner Sir Paul Nurse told me that opening up Smirke’s masterpiece once more would be a advantageous.

“I can’t second guess what will happen — but I’d like to see its integrity returned,” he said.

“I’d like to see the fact it was this great library and intellectual centre for London celebrated. It means making its structure obvious and some connection maintained to its intellectual history. It is a space that spawned ideas.”

Others are more forthright. Architectural historian Dan Cruickshank queries why a plan has not been long in place.

“It is an extremely important interior and the museum must find an acceptable use for it soon,” he told me. There were promises it would be restored and reopened and they have not done that. So much has happened there of truly international importance. “It is a marvellous place to work — it is so conducive to intellectual achievement.”

Architect Spencer de Grey, senior partner and head of design at Rogers’s practice, worked on the redesign of the museum’s great court between 1994 and 2000.

He says the room’s future must be at the top of the to-do list for MacGregor’s replacement.

“London is short of civilised, free places of study,” he said. “Surely the round reading room could immediately reopen as such. It is an uplifting space that inspired the likes of Karl Marx and should be available to the students and researchers of today.”

The museum holds in its trust treasures lifted from civilisations from around the globe.

Now it must show, as a matter of urgency, how it intends to care for one of its own.

‘Feminist’ London museum revealed as Jack the Ripper sensationalism


This video from England is called East London Women Singing in Xhosa.

By Joana Ramiro in Britain:

Women’s Museum actually the Ripper

Thursday 30th July 2015

Celebration of East End women replaced with murderer

THE hoardings were removed from a museum meant to honour the women of London’s East End yesterday to reveal a gimmicky exhibition about Jack the Ripper and his misogynistic murders.

Women’s rights campaigners and local residents were up in arms as they found out about the “crass and ill thought-out” project about to open on historic Cable Street.

The founder of the Jack the Ripper Museum, Global Diversity List chief executive Mark Palmer-Edgecumbe, said the venue was a “serious examination” of the serial killer.

The museum will “tell the story from the perspective of the women who were his victims for the first time,” his statement claimed.

The owners originally applied to Tower Hamlets Council to convert the disused shop into a “Museum of Women’s History [that] will retell the history of the East End through the eyes, voices and experiences of the women that shaped [it].”

The application even criticised most history of the area being “told from the perspective of poverty, crime and social unrest.”

The original Women's Museum application

It was backed by sample exhibits with pictures of Suffragettes, anti-racism campaigns and female trade unionists.

Campaigner Jemima Broadbridge told the Star she raised the alarm after one of her friends living on Cable Street told her about his shock as the site’s scaffolding came down.

She said Mr Palmer-Edgecombe had “cynically” suggested a popular theme for the site in order to dodge opposition.

“It doesn’t look good, it’s unfeeling and crass and ill thought-out,” Ms Broadbridge said.

The English Collective of Prostitutes complained that the museum would trivialise violence against sex workers.

Collective member Alia said: “The murder of women shouldn’t be fetishised into an intriguing murder mystery.”

The museum tried to placate complaints by arguing it would donate “a proportion of our profits” to women’s charity Eaves.

Eaves said it had not known about the museum or heard of its plans to make the charity a beneficiary.

Tower Hamlets Council said it had granted planing permission in October 2014 on the basis that the premises would be used as a women’s museum but “ultimately has no control in planning terms of the nature of the museum.”

A spokesman said the council was investigating whether any unauthorised works had been carried out.

Protesters plan to target the museum on August 5.

Announcement of protest against Jack the Ripper Museum

See also here. And here.

More photos included in the Women's Museum application

From daily The Independent in Britain about this:

Community campaigner Jemima Broadbridge told the East London Advertiser that she felt “offended by this museum of the macabre”.

“Cable Street had nothing to do with Jack the Ripper—that was in Whitechapel, not here. It’s misleading to tourists,” she said.

She told the newspaper that the street had “a glorious history about resisting Mosley’s fascists in 1936” which the community did not want “muddled up by Ripper mythology”.

Bloody glass, sold at Jack the Ripper Museum

From daily The Guardian in Britain:

Jemima Broadbridge, an east London campaigner and community organiser, said that local residents were not told about the change. “We haven’t had anything through our doors,” she said. “Fair enough he’s a businessman, but we object to him not being honest with the council and residents. Don’t pretend to build a museum about women – and this is a prime area for that, we have a lot of philanthropists around here – and then choose to do this.”

She added that Cable Street was “known for Oscar Wilde and Charles Dickens, not Jack the Ripper”.

East End women

Quran from Prophet Muhammad’s time discovery in England?


This video from Britain says about itself:

‘Oldest’ Koran found in Birmingham – BBC News

22 July 2015

What may be the world’s oldest fragments of the Koran have been found by the University of Birmingham. Radiocarbon dating found the manuscript to be at least 1,370 years old, making it among the earliest in existence. The pages of the Muslim holy text had remained unrecognised in the university library for almost a century.

From the BBC today:

‘Oldest’ Koran fragments found in Birmingham University

By Sean Coughlan, Education correspondent

What may be the world’s oldest fragments of the Koran have been found by the University of Birmingham.

Radiocarbon dating found the manuscript to be at least 1,370 years old, making it among the earliest in existence.

The pages of the Muslim holy text had remained unrecognised in the university library for almost a century.

The British Library’s expert on such manuscripts, Dr Muhammad Isa Waley, said this “exciting discovery” would make Muslims “rejoice”.

The manuscript had been kept with a collection of other Middle Eastern books and documents, without being identified as one of the oldest fragments of the Koran in the world.

Oldest texts

When a PhD researcher, Alba Fedeli, looked more closely at these pages it was decided to carry out a radiocarbon dating test and the results were “startling”.

The university’s director of special collections, Susan Worrall, said researchers had not expected “in our wildest dreams” that it would be so old.

“Finding out we had one of the oldest fragments of the Koran in the whole world has been fantastically exciting.”

The tests, carried out by the Oxford University Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit, showed that the fragments, written on sheep or goat skin, were among the very oldest surviving texts of the Koran.

These tests provide a range of dates, showing that, with a probability of more than 95%, the parchment was from between 568 and 645.

“They could well take us back to within a few years of the actual founding of Islam,” said David Thomas, the university’s professor of Christianity and Islam.

“According to Muslim tradition, the Prophet Muhammad received the revelations that form the Koran, the scripture of Islam, between the years 610 and 632, the year of his death.”

Prof Thomas says the dating of the Birmingham folios would mean it was quite possible that the person who had written them would have been alive at the time of the Prophet Muhammad.

“The person who actually wrote it could well have known the Prophet Muhammad. He would have seen him probably, he would maybe have heard him preach. He may have known him personally – and that really is quite a thought to conjure with,” he says.

First-hand witness

Prof Thomas says that some of the passages of the Koran were written down on parchment, stone, palm leaves and the shoulder blades of camels – and a final version, collected in book form, was completed in about 650.

He says that “the parts of the Koran that are written on this parchment can, with a degree of confidence, be dated to less than two decades after Muhammad’s death”.

“These portions must have been in a form that is very close to the form of the Koran read today, supporting the view that the text has undergone little or no alteration and that it can be dated to a point very close to the time it was believed to be revealed.”

The manuscript, written in “Hijazi script“, an early form of written Arabic, becomes one of the oldest known fragments of the Koran.

Because radiocarbon dating creates a range of possible ages, there is a handful of other manuscripts in public and private collections which overlap. So this makes it impossible to say that any is definitively the oldest.

But the latest possible date of the Birmingham discovery – 645 – would put it among the very oldest.

‘Precious survivor’

Dr Waley, curator for such manuscripts at the British Library, said “these two folios, in a beautiful and surprisingly legible Hijazi hand, almost certainly date from the time of the first three caliphs”.

The first three caliphs were leaders in the Muslim community between about 632 and 656.

Dr Waley says that under the third caliph, Uthman ibn Affan, copies of the “definitive edition” were distributed.

“The Muslim community was not wealthy enough to stockpile animal skins for decades, and to produce a complete Mushaf, or copy, of the Holy Koran required a great many of them.”

Dr Waley suggests that the manuscript found by Birmingham is a “precious survivor” of a copy from that era or could be even earlier.

“In any case, this – along with the sheer beauty of the content and the surprisingly clear Hijazi script – is news to rejoice Muslim hearts.”

The manuscript is part of the Mingana Collection of more than 3,000 Middle Eastern documents gathered in the 1920s by Alphonse Mingana, a Chaldean priest born near Mosul in modern-day Iraq.

He was sponsored to take collecting trips to the Middle East by Edward Cadbury, who was part of the chocolate-making dynasty.

The Koran

Muslims believe the words of the Koran were revealed to the Prophet Muhammad by the angel Gabriel over 22 years from 610

It was not until 1734 that a translation was made into English, but was littered with mistakes

Copies of the holy text were issued to British Indian soldiers fighting in the First World War

On 6 October 1930, words from the Koran were broadcast on British radio for the first time, in a BBC programme called The Sphinx

Discover how the Koran became part of British life

The local Muslim community has already expressed its delight at the discovery in their city and the university says the manuscript will be put on public display.

“When I saw these pages I was very moved. There were tears of joy and emotion in my eyes. And I’m sure people from all over the UK will come to Birmingham to have a glimpse of these pages,” said Muhammad Afzal, chairman of Birmingham Central Mosque.

The university says the Koran fragments will go on display in the Barber Institute in Birmingham in October.

Prof Thomas says it will show people in Birmingham that they have a “treasure that is second to none”.

Less study of nazi crimes at German university


This United States government-commisioned video by director Billy Wilder is called Historic Stock Footage: NAZI DEATH MILLSCRIMES AGAINST HUMANITY.

By Marianne Arens in Germany:

Frankfurt university winds down research on National Socialism

21 July 2015

If the Goethe University in Frankfurt gets its way, future teachers will no longer receive instruction in the history of National Socialism. This is the only conclusion to be drawn from the recent attacks by the university’s education department on the Center for Research on National Socialist Pedagogy.

The head of the Education Department has decided that student attendance of lectures on National Socialist pedagogy will receive little or no official recognition. Students in the teacher training program will no longer receive any credit points, while students in the master’s program in education will, in future, receive only half as many credit points as previously. The credit points correspond to the “certificates” that were previously awarded to students as proof of their academic achievement.

The short statement from the department and the Academy for Educational Research and Teacher Education does not deny depriving student teachers of credit points. In a bureaucratic manner, it refers to the “joint agreement of all German states,” produced at the Culture Ministry Conference on Teacher Education. According to this agreement, topics studied have to concentrate on “instruction, training, diagnostics, and school development.” National Socialist pedagogy, which is ascribed the status of a “special topic,” is considered a “requirement neither in Frankfurt nor in other German or international institutions of teacher education,” the statement reads.

The Research Center for National Socialist Pedagogy was set up four years ago as a pilot project at Frankfurt University. By 2013, it had worked out a two-semester course of study aimed at providing all student teachers and pedagogy students with a knowledge of National Socialism, its crimes and ideology. This course of study has now been carried out successfully three times.

The lectures were always well attended and were frequently overflowing. Professor Benjamin Ortmeyer, who leads the research center, made comparative analyses of pedagogical writings during the period of National Socialism, and researched topics such as National Socialist propaganda against the workers movement and the enforced conformity of opinion (Gleichschaltung) of the Frankfurt University during the Third Reich.

Ortmeyer invited Theresienstadt concentration camp survivor Trude Simonsohn to one of his lectures. Another time, he spoke about Josef Mengele, the concentration camp doctor at Auschwitz-Birkenau, who had written his doctoral dissertation in Frankfurt on “race research” and about whom the professor has written a book (Beyond the Hippocratic Oath: Dr. Mengele and the Goethe University).

The past four years have clearly shown that the course of study on National Socialist pedagogy answers a growing demand. The study of the Third Reich by prospective teachers is all the more important, since the German university and media establishment has evinced a clear trend towards downplaying the role of National Socialism and the lessons of the World War II.

This historical revisionism is closely connected with the revival of German militarism and the aggressive foreign policy of the German government. For example, Herfried Münkler, who teaches political science at the Humboldt University in Berlin, said at the beginning of the year in the Süddeutsche Zeitung: “It is barely possible to conduct a responsible policy in Europe based on the notion: We are to blame for everything.” Münkler argues openly for German hegemony in Europe.

Münkler’s colleague Gunther Hellmann is also pushing for a new foreign policy strategy on the part of the German government. He wrote a book for the Munich Security Conference in 2015 and promotes the new white paper of the armed forces on the web site of the Defense Ministry.

Consequently, it cannot be viewed as accidental that the university management refuses to secure the Center for Research on National Socialist Pedagogy in its curriculum. The department has cut even the modest funding that it had previously provided to the academic staff at the research center, who subsist largely on third party funding provided by the Hans Böckler Foundation, which is close to the trade unions. The presidium will temporarily provide funding, but this is only guaranteed until May 2016.

One of the topics that the research center has already examined illustrates how important the continuation of its work would be. This topic is the enforced conformity of opinion (Gleichschaltung) and the role of the university rector, the infamous Ernst Krieck. In 1939, Krieck wrote, “as in the city of Frankfurt, so also at its university, Marxist ideology and the Jews of a foreign type penetrate and advance. During the epoch of systems, ever more Jews and supporters of Marxism gained academic chairs. … All these elements must be wiped out. … At the same time, the student body will also be purified of them.”

The passage can be found on a panel in the exhibit that was created by students at the university for its 75-year anniversary celebration in 1989: “The brown seizure of power. University of Frankfurt 1930-1945.” The exhibit documents the book burning, suppression and expulsions, “race research and hereditary biology,” and every kind of active support that the Goethe University gave to fascism.

The exhibit plates are still hanging in the old cafeteria building at the Bockenheim campus. Their days are numbered, however, since the university moved to a new location at the Westend campus five years ago. Although the hundred year anniversary of the university was celebrated with great pomp last year, there was no comparable effort or expense put into examining its National Socialist past, and no concrete plans have yet been made to move the exhibit to the new location.