39. Hans Sloane and the Origins of the British Museum with James Delbourgo


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Over the course of his long life, Hans Sloane collected tens of thousands of items which became the basis for what is today the British Museum. Funded in large part by his marriage into the enslaving plantocracy of Jamaica and the Atlantic slave trade, and aided by Britain’s rising colonial power and global reach, he assembled an encyclopedic collection of specimens and objects from all around the world.

James Delbourgo, professor of History of Science and Atlantic World at Rutgers University, is the author of Collecting the World: Hans Sloane and the Origins of the British Museum. In this episode, Delbourgo describes Sloane’s formative years in Jamaica, how his collection was an attempt to catalogue the wonders and intricacies of a divine creation, and how the British Museum, which opened in 1759, came into being as a result of the terms Sloane laid down in his will. Delbourgo also discusses how Sloane’s idea of universal public access to his collections remains radical to this day.

James Delbourgo

Collecting the World: Hans Sloane and the Origins of the British Museum

Topics Discussed:
00:00: Intro
00:15: James Delbourgo
00:40: Hans Sloane
02:10: Sloane in Jamaica
02:58: Earliest Transcription of African Music in the Americas
04:21: Sloane in London
06:58: Universal Public Access at the British Museum
10:40: Admission Charges at the Metropolitan Museum of Art
11:27: Recommendation: Museums in Strange Places
12:00: Outro

70 episodes