Visiting the British Museum will be one of the highlights of this trip. Living in Kansas City does not leave you with so many options for museum trips; I’ve been to the Nelson’s Egypt exhibit several times, but the quantity of items in not only the Egyptian but other culture’s room was staggering.

One of those lovely little tidbits of information that caught my eye was in the ground floor Egyptian room. It said that the first British to experience Egyptian artifacts was surprised at their quality because of how the British culture understood ancient Greek and Roman cultural remains. So… our understanding of history is incomplete, and often filtered by institutions such as museums and schools.

Mieville’s two cities have an incomplete understanding of history-though a majority of the artifacts are being excavated in Ul Quoma, enough of them are in Beszel to make the dig that much more incomplete. When you go into a museum and see the array of carefully displayed artifacts and information it sets the museum up as being an expert in that particular area. Its a human foible to credit experts as more knowledgeable than they maybe are. My favorite exhibits are the ones where some information is known, but the experts admit to guesswork and theorizing. Those exhibits allow room for the viewer’s imagination and curiosity to engage with the piece (or exhibit).

Digging in a site that belongs partially to another country stunts even the expert’s curiosity. Ul Quoma and Beszel aren’t the ones interested in pre-Cleavage time, its foreign countries that are the most interested, perhaps because they didn’t spend their childhoods learning how to ignore another culture living in the same space. Perhaps we better learn how to recognize other cultures that we live with by visiting sites dedicated to dead societies, but that learning is often channeled by the museum’s decisions in portrayal of exhibits.

 

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