337 Claudia Cohen Hall
Collecting the World: Hans Sloane and the Origins of the British Museum
In 1759, the British Museum opened its doors for the first time - as the first free national public museum in the world - but how did it come into being? This talk recounts the overlooked yet eventful life of the museum's founder, Sir Hans Sloane, who amassed a fortune as a London society physician, became president of the Royal Society and Royal College of Physicians, and assembled an encyclopedic collection of specimens and objects, which became the foundation of the British Museum. Slavery and empire played foundational roles in his career: Sloane worked in Jamaica as a plantation doctor, made collections with help from planters and slaves, and married a Jamacian sugar heiress, adding to his wealth and his ability to collect. He then established a network of agents to supply him with objects of all kinds from Asia, the Americas and beyond. The little-known life of one of the Enlightenment's most controversial luminaries provides a new story about the beginnings of public museums.