[I moved this thread from meta to general discussion.]
Ah, that’s why it took so long to appear! Sorry, I don’t know how I managed to do that.
Awful! I expect such things out of the mouths of museum docents, who are usually volunteers and have to fill up their spiels with something, but having such idiocies appear as part of an actual exhibit is inexcusable.
Sadly, on account of the said New Museology, it is increasingly common in the UK. These days the ‘old model’ of museum display, which was predicated on the idea that the curators knew something about the collection and should select and arrange items from the collection in order to inform museum visitors, is now not merely old hat but actively decried as elitist; the idea now is that curators shouldn’t try to disseminate knowledge, rather the museum simply gives visitors an ‘experience’, to which they can ‘respond’, and draw from it whatever they want, and that their ‘responses’ to the displays, and what they make of it, is as valid as anything else could be - even if what they make of it is demonstrably factually incorrect. And if that is your thinking, how could it possibly matter if your own display panels contain demonstrable untruths?
If you think that is overstating the case, try this article in today’s Times:
Birmingham Museum defends exhibition of ‘evil’ British Empire
Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery has defended an exhibition that has been accused of giving the impression that “the British Empire was unfailingly dreadful and uniquely evil”.
The museum said The Past is Now was a “test laboratory” with outside activists allowed to decide the “tone of voice” of the presentation. The curators include Abeera Kamran, a graphic designer, Sara Myers, a cultural activist, and Shaheen Kasman, a textile designer. They wrote the information boards that say that the “relationship between European colonialism, industrial production and capitalism is unique in its brutality”. Another panel takes to task Joseph Chamberlain, one of the city’s most famous 19th century sons, who “is still revered despite his aggressive and racist imperial policy”. One board blames Britain’s “hasty” departure from India in 1947 for “trauma and misogyny” while another states that “capitalism is a system that prioritises the interests of the individuals and their companies at the expense of the majority”.
Janine Eason, director of engagement at the publicly funded Birmingham Museums Trust, said it was no longer possible for museums to be neutral. “In the past we have attempted to give a neutral voice but given that people’s histories are different that is very difficult and, I would argue, it is not possible for a museum to actually present a neutral voice, particularly for something as multifaceted as stories relating to the British Empire,” she said.
One visitor, Ross Fenn, a gallery owner, said that the “public want to keep their trust in museums by believing they are being given unbiased information. You wouldn’t want an exhibition on evolution with curators who were creationists or a Holocaust exhibition if the curators were all Holocaust deniers.” The overriding impression given was that the “British Empire was unfailingly dreadful and uniquely evil”, he added.
Ms Eason said she was trying to “find ways to democratise the museum”, to “find new ways of engaging and serving the young and multicultural population of Birmingham which essentially owns the collection we care for”. She said it did “intend to provoke”, adding: “We don’t want people to be hurt or upset but there is an argument that people might be upset about how stories were presented in the past”.
I would write to the NAM and point out the errors (not that I suspect they would care much, for reasons aforesaid) but I don’t feel I can, because my husband is a museum curator in London (though not an exponent of these principles, I’m happy to say), and any waves I make might make life difficult for him if anybody connects me with him.