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What is the British Empire & Commonwealth Museum?

Some ten years in the making, the British Empire & Commonwealth Museum represents the first serious attempt in the United kingdom to present a publicly accessible history of the British empire and to examine its continuing impact on Britain and the rest of the world. This was the largest empire the world has ever known, yet its history is relatively unknown to most Britons today.

The British Empire & Commonwealth Museum draws upon a wide range of experiences and divergent opinions about the colonial period. It presents a history seen from all sides, from explorers to aboriginal peoples, viceroys to freedom fighters, district officers to indentured servants.

It covers not only the maritime, military and technological triumphs of empire, but also examines issues such as racism, economic exploitation, cultural imperialism and slavery. The 500-year history of the British empire and the modern Commonwealth is presented to the visitor through twenty themed galleries. The starting point is John Cabot’s voyage from Bristol to Newfoundland in 1497 and the birth of Britain’s trading empire. The exhibition concludes with an examination of life in Britain today.

The galleries use a mix of authentic objects, costume, film, photographs and sound recordings, many never seen before in public. Most are from the Museum’s archives although much material has been provided by other institutions such as the British Museum, the National Maritime Museum and the Science Museum.

The guiding principle is to allow people, whatever their faith or background, access to a unique shared history. To enable them to make sense of who they are, where they come from, in order to move confidently into the future. It is an attempt to invoke a clearer notion of an individual and collective identity

The permanent exhibition is supported by a major educational programme, which includes a groundbreaking community radio station facility. Changing special exhibitions focus in detail on different aspects of the main displays. The Museum also offers a shop and a cafe.

A History of Imperialism in a Global Economy

Katherine Hann
Head of Education and Interpretation, British Empire & Commonwealth Museum click here for more details (pdf - 40k)