Tiffany Jenkins’s new book about museums is partly historical, partly political. ‘I fear for their future’, she writes on the first page. But when she tells us of the hundred new museums opening in China each year and of highly ambitious projects in the Middle East and elsewhere, it becomes evident that it is not museums as such that are the problem, but her worries about what they do. Her main aim is to ‘to restate the role of the museum and to reassess what we should expect of objects’. She wants to ‘get the right balance on the relationship between culture and power’, using the word ‘culture’ here, as she tends to do throughout the book, to mean things in museums curated by ‘members of the cultural profession’.
The historical chapters explain how the major public museums of the northern hemisphere, such as the Louvre and the British Museum, came to be in possession of important ‘treasures’ from around the world. Although wide-ranging, her examples come mainly from the 19th century and earlier. Jenkins then summarises the arguments