Learn from real history, not faked museums

I liked Gaynor Williams’ piece, Musing on Museums (Private View, DW 14 April), questioning the value of a ú50m history museum.

I liked Gaynor Williams’ piece, Musing on Museums (Private View, DW 14 April), questioning the value of a ú50m history museum.

Far be it from me as a museum designer to inhibit anybody from building a new museum, but I can’t imagine anything less museum-like and more unnecessary than a museum of history. Our own national story is told throughout the 2000 or more museums that we have in this country, and told as it should be – with objects, artefacts and records that truthfully represent our past.

What seems to be proposed is some kind of public records office that will offer a sanitised, contemporary view of our past, accessed via computers, without a real artefact in sight and with no guarantee of accuracy. At best, museums contain real objects that cannot lie; this idea sounds like something that might have been dreamed up by George Orwell.

The proposed scheme has to be absurd: one of the great pleasures of museums, parish records and indeed the real Public Record Office is that we can rootle among a genuine, often verbatim record of our past, represented by real objects. Treasures of the Earth, which we opened in the Geological Museum in 1985, demonstrated that one way to interpret objects and expand the available information was to have a massive computer resource (by the standards of the day). Some more recent museums and social history galleries use similar methods of accessing further information and family or social histories.

A museum is about truth, or getting as near to it as we can, and this is represented by objects that are there to be interpreted by the visiting public of all types, classes and academic levels. The so-called truth in history books is regularly disputed – I cannot see that a technological resource would be any more accurate or reliable.

I am sure it would be wiser to share ú50m among 200 provincial museums that would be grateful for ú250 000 each to spend on existing galleries. This would also give a great deal of work to a large number of museum designers.

Giles Velarde Associates

Pett Level

East Sussex

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