Museums Work

Museums Work

Dullness, dustiness, and moribund banality…

‘Let it not be supposed that all children are angels in a museum; they are not. They play, they howl at the door, they are at times most troublesome, but that can be overcome with a little tact, and judicious treatment… Though full of spirits, they are at an impressionable age. To shut the door upon them would be to miss an opportunity’.

The above quotation is taken from a pamphlet written by Frank Stevens FSA and published in 1919 by Salisbury Museum. Some Account of the Educational Work Done at the Salisbury Museum 1916 – 19 was prompted by the belief that education would be ‘in the forefront of the activities which demand attention under “after the war reconstruction” Educational development is a burning question of the hour, and it is part of the policy of every museum to avail itself of the opportunities this development gives in the new era which must follow in the wake of the great war’.

In the Salisbury Museum itself, just before the war, the curator had organised educational activities for the children who visited the Museum in increasing numbers on Monday evenings (when it was open until 8 pm), at times ‘to the prejudice of good order’. While some appeared to be ‘merely curious, others steadily examined the cases one by one, with an evident desire to master their contents’. A course of lectures was thus organised to ‘thoroughly explain’ the objects on display ‘in such terms and in such a way as will bring their history most vividly to their imagination’. 

This was conducted on the lines of a school class – at which point the merely ‘casual or curious’ disappeared; but the experiment also prompted some interesting reflections on the nature of a museum as an ‘educational storehouse’. In Mr Stevens’ view, this had often been overlooked in the past, partly because of ‘a lack of public appreciation of the solid merits of a regularly organised collection’ – but also because of the existence of museums which:

‘have earned for the whole class a name for dullness, dustiness, and moribund banality. There are Museums and Museums. A good one, well arranged and well kept, clean, neat and attractive, may be the means of conveying instruction and giving interest and pleasure to the lives of thousands of our fellow creatures. Such museums do not grow by themselves. Money, time, knowledge, and loving sympathetic care must be expended upon them, both in their foundation and in their maintainance, and unless these can be provided for with tolerable certainty, it is useless to think of founding them… A church demands its minister, a school its teacher, a garden its gardener; so, too, the Museum requires its competent staff to take care of it…’.  

The employment of staff with specific educational roles seems to have been a longer-term development, however. In my next blog I’ll be looking at an example from Derbyshire…

 
 

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