A young visitor in Room 2 beside the the Knucklebone player sculpture

Room 2

Collecting the world 

Visiting the gallery

Opening times

Daily: 10.00–17.00 (Fridays: 20.30)
See full opening hours

Advance booking advised

Gallery audio guides

Listen on the Audio app, available on the App Store and Google Play.

The Collecting the world gallery celebrates the collectors who help to shape the Museum.

Founded in 1753, the British Museum opened its doors to visitors in 1759. The Museum tells the story of human cultural achievement through a collection of collections. This room celebrates some of the collectors who, in different ways, have shaped the Museum over four centuries, along with individuals and organisations who continue to shape its future.

The adjoining galleries also explore aspects of collecting. Room 1: Enlightenment, tells the story of how, in the early Museum, objects and knowledge were gathered and classified. Room 2a: The Waddesdon Bequest displays the collection of Renaissance and Baroque masterpieces left to the British Museum by Baron Ferdinand Rothschild MP at his death in 1898.

Take a virtual tour

In Collecting the world, see Grayson Perry's Rosetta Vase, plus a diverse range of objects that showcase the contribution of influential collectors through the Museum's history.

The Rosetta Vase in Collecting the world gallery. ©2020 Google.

Gallery facts

  • The British Museum was founded in 1753 as a place of recreation 'for all studious and curious persons'.
  • Opened to the public in 1759, like now, the Museum was free but to prevent overcrowding, early visitors had to apply in person to the Porter for a ticket, return another day to collect it, and then return at the appointed time for the visit itself. 
  • The founding collection belonged to the physician Sir Hans Sloane (1660–1753). His collection included books, manuscripts and natural history specimens, as well as objects made by hand. 
  • Originally a museum of natural history, books and manuscripts, art and archaeology, through the years the Museum has evolved into a collection of art and artefacts from the world's cultures.
  • The Collecting the world display opened in Autumn 2014. It features a few of the many individual collectors whose passion has shaped the collections of the Museum since its foundation. The gallery also features individuals, support groups, organisations and international collaboration projects which continue to shape the Museum's future.
  • The Collecting the world gallery was previously the Museum's manuscript gallery prior to the departure of the British Library to its new building in St Pancras. Some of the famous manuscripts on display during that time include the Magna Carta and the Lindisfarne Gospels.  

Precarious passage

Precarious Passage describes the journey we are all making in a fragile boat across the unpredictable ocean of time. It deals with climate change, political upheaval and migration.

Quote from Issam Kourbaj

Revealed to the public this year at a British Museum talk between the internationally acclaimed artist Issam Kourbaj and Museum Director Hartwig Fischer, Precarious Passage is a powerful new artwork which, in Fischer's words, shows how migration 'traverse[s] the history of humankind'.

The work – a copy of the book A History of the World in 100 Objects by former British Museum director Neil MacGregor with a hole bored through it, in which sits a small metal boat filled with a cluster of spent matches – is now on display in the Collecting the world gallery (Room 2). Donated to the Museum to mark Refugee Week (19–25 June 2023), it highlights the plight of millions seeking refuge from war and poverty.

Born in Suweida in southwestern Syria in 1963, Kourbaj has lived in Cambridge since 1990 and has a background in fine art, architecture and theatre design. The conflict in Syria, which began as demonstrations on the streets of Deraa in 2011, prompted Kourbaj to turn his artistic focus to his homeland.

The boat used in the work is similar to those made for Kourbaj's 2016 work Dark Water, Burning World – a flotilla of boats made from bicycle mudguards and extinguished matchsticks evoking desperate people huddled together. The work urges the public not to forget the innumerable people who have been fleeing Syria since the start of the conflict. Currently displayed in The Albukhary Foundation Gallery of the Islamic world (Room 43), the work was chosen as 'Object 101' by MacGregor on the 10th anniversary of BBC Radio 4's A History of the World in 100 Objects.

Visiting information

This display is free to visit, just book a timed slot in advance to guarantee entry to the Museum and drop in.


  • A large print guide is available. 
  • Some objects in this collection feature on the British Sign Language multimedia guide. This resource is temporarily unavailable. You can access a selection of BSL films on your own device.
  • Some objects in this collection feature on the audio description guide, available on Soundcloud.
  • Seating is available.
  • Step-free access. 
  • View sensory map.

Visit Accessibility at the Museum for more information.