17 February 2019.
Been Cambridging today. It’s sunny and warm and lovely and worrying for February. I began the day with coffee and a chocolate croissant from Aromi on Market Square. Then I went to Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology on Downing Street. I had some cider and chips at the Granta before going to the University Museum of Zoology and finally the Heong Gallery that had a photographic exhibition of the college libraries. I felt fascination and gratitude for this wealth of knowledge collected in objects and remains from the whole world, gathered here in this small old market town in East Anglia.
The University is old, rich and powerful, and has collected and studied for centuries. Now its museums are open and free, and the knowledge shared. But looking at Darwin’s beetle box from the Beagle voyages, polar bear skeletons, Aztec icons, Sami dresses, inuit canoes and First Nations musical instruments, I thought that they were obtained through colonialism. Lives and cultures have been sacrificed to get their remains and artefacts here. The study of them brought them home, at the expense of their very existence.
The same powers that allow me to understand and interact with these foreign entities are the same powers that threaten them. It’s the same force that brought them close that push them further away into oblivion. Conservation can bring destruction.
If knowledge is power, then the thirst for knowledge is also a thirst for power. That became clear when I looked through my own blurry reflection in the glass cabinets of Cambridge, where the wealth and power of the University is both all-encompassing and exclusive.