In the last four decades the ideas and practices that the British Museum were historically associated with have come under critical scrutiny; which means the institution requires a new basis for legitimacy. As a consequence; over the last ten years in particular; the discourses about the role of the museum have gradually and subtly altered. In this paper; I suggest that there is a repositioning of the institution away from a surveyor of the world; to a facilitator of world cultures. New discourses position the institution as playing an important role in promoting tolerance amongst peoples in the present. One reason this is necessary; it is suggested; is due to a rise in nationalism. The British Museum was never a museum that presented a nationalist discourse. Instead it surveyed the world. However; the shift which identifies nationalism as a problem and the museum as a solution to it; is a significant departure that requires attention.