Tag Archives: Museums

Museum Fatigue

You look at the display panels and the glass cases. You can see the words, but your brain cannot take it all in. You see the pictures, and somehow you no longer feel so interested. Nothing jumps out at you. You’re irritated by the kids running around. The glass of coke and slice of cake are giving you a sugar rush. You’ve been there a couple of hours, and you’re thinking its time to call it a day. But the person with you insists on reading EVER word – argh! You can’t even be bothered to look through the shop on the way out.

Congratulations, you’ve got Museum Fatigue!

There is no shame in suffering from this totally random, unforgiving, but entirely curable ailment. It happens to the best of us. I love Museums – hell, I’ve worked in them since I was 16 – but sometimes its all too much. Think about it – why do lectures at University last for an hour? Because thats all the human brain can take in terms of learning at any one time. Even if you can keep looking at 17th Century Dutch Art after that, your brain won’t be taking it in quite as well. I’m sure that the human brain learns better in smaller, focussed sessions. And you enjoy visiting Museums more like this too – if you get bored or irritable, then you wont enjoy yourself.

So all day at a Museum or any kind of similar venue really is pushing it. It helps if somewhere has fresh air, a decent cafe, lots of different displays, audio-visuals, maybe even some physical activities. But I do know that maybe Museums need to look beyond having row upon row of medals, or paintings, or fine china saucers – sometimes I think less is more, and reduces the overload on the human brain. Most people visit Museums in their spare time, after all, and people want to enjoy their spare time. And whats enjoyable about going home with a headache?

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The dilemma of Military Museums

I regularly keep an eye on quite a few jobsites, especially ones concerning Museums. I guess you could say a job working at a Military Museum would be my dream. Just recently, I noticed a job advertised for Director of a well-known British Army unit’s Museum. It makes very interesting reading indeed.

Qualifications and Experience: Detailed and up to date knowledge of the Army and Royal Signals in particular, including military communications and their significance to the command and control of operations.

Now, it strikes me that the only person likely to have that kind of experience is going to be a retired officer!

Both the Royal Marines Museum and the RN Submarine Museum have raised eyebrows recently by appointing non-service types to senior posts. Previously, the unwritten rule was that to have any chance of being Director of a military museum, you had to be a former serving sailor, soldier or airman. This doesnt just apply to senior posts, but all posts down to shop cashier sometimes. Its a real ‘jobs-for-the-boys’ thing.

While I see nothing wrong with giving jobs to people who have served the country, I do question the wisdom of keeping such institutions as a closed shop. A narrow and exclusive recruitment policy severely limits the experience, expertise and dynamism that will be found in the museum. Neither does it reflect the realities of running a Museum – what is a retired officer likely to know about applying for grant funding, formal and informal learning, or community outreach?

A young person who has just graduated with a Degree or a Masters might not be wearing the Regimental tie, and they might not know the Regimental March, but such things can be learnt. Also, they are more likely to bring new, fresh ideas to the table. Some Military Museums have grasped the bull by the horns and appointed people who have expertise in marketing and heritage in a broader sense, which is remarkably foresighted for a sector of the Heritage industry that is usually remarkably insular and conservative.

Especially at a time when Museums are facing many changes and challenges, and are having to re-examine their policies and priorities in the face of funding challenges and a depressed economic situation. It is not a time to rest on laurels or to try and preserve the status quo.

Maybe 20 years ago it was OK to bung a load of uniforms in a glass case and leave them there. But in the twentieth century the visiting public, and indeed the Regiments and units that the Museums are dedicated to, deserve a lot better. Regiments and their history have so much to contribute to society – there are plenty of ways that they can complement the national curriculum, for example.

The link between Armed Forces and general public is absolutely crucial, as shown by the recent growth of interest in charities such as Help for Heroes, and the attendances at Wootton Basett for repatriations from Afghanistan. Museums SHOULD have a role in this, as a place for people to find out about the armed forces, and for the armed forces to meet and inspire people. But apart from a few notable cases, in a lot places this doesnt really seem to be happening.

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Fort Nelson revamp goes off with a bang

A £2 million revamp of Fort Nelson, near Portsmouth, got off to an explosive start yesterday.

The Fort, home of the Royal Armouries collection of Artilley and Cannons, is a nineteenth century Palmerston fort, on the crest of Portsdown Hill.

The first phase involved the demolition of a post-war cottage, in fitting fashion by a Sexton armoured vehicle.

The demolition is the first stage of a major revamp at the Royal Armouries Museum – home to the national collection of artillery and historic cannon – and will see enhanced visitor facilities, galleries and state-of-the-art education facilities.

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Trafalgar flag – for the nation?

HMS Achille, Spartiates sister ship

HMS Achille, Spartiate's sister ship

The last known surviving Union Jack flown in battle by the Royal Navy at Trafalgar is expected to sell for £15,000 at auction. The jack was flown from the flagstaff of HMS Spartiate. After the battle on 21 October 1805 it was presented to one of the ships officers, and his family and ancestors have kept it safe until now.

Charles Miller, who is selling the flag in London on Trafalgar Day, October 21, said: “We believe it is the only existing flag that flew at Trafalgar. It is one of the most important historical items any collector could expect to handle. The damage is probably from bullet holes or splinter fragments, but despite this it is in amazing condition.”

HMS Spartiate was a 74 gun ship of the line, built and launched by the French. In 1798 she fought at the Battle of the Nile, and was captured by the British. As was the custom at the time she was repaired and commissioned into the Royal Navy, complete with the same name, and fought at Trafalgar.

In my opinion, something of this importance should not be allowed to get anywhere near private collectors, who would puchase it out of extravagance and keep it for their own gratification. It would far more appropriately be donated to the National Maritime Museum or the Royal Naval Museum, where anyone and everyone could go and see it. Or, god forbid, it might even end up leaving the country. Museums, with their rigid funding, simply cannot compete against wealthy individuals.

Should there be laws to protect items of national importance from being squirreled away, or leaving the country altogether?

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Filed under debate, maritime history, Museums, Napoleonic War, Navy, News

£13m for UK’s Heritage

The Heritage Lottery Fund today announced £13m worth of grants for four Heritage projects around the UK.

Bletchley Park in Milton Keynes is the historic site of secret British code breaking activities during World War Two and birthplace of the modern computer. It has been awarded HLF development funding of £460,500 towards a further potential application of £4.1million. Proposals include: repairing key buildings to highlight the crucial part the site played in the World War Two code breaking story; improving visitor facilities; and expanding the site’s educational programmes.

HLF’s £3.3million grant will fund the transformation of the redundant 19th-century All Souls Church in Bolton into a state-of-the-art facility providing training, education, youth activities, health and welfare services to the local community. Plans include taking out the existing pews and replacing them with a community centre, made up of two ‘pods’ that will sit within the church building.

The National Maritime Museum in Greenwich will also benefit. Thanks to HLF’s £5million grant, an elegant and inviting entrance will be created directly from Greenwich Park and much more of the collection and archive will be displayed in the new library, archive facilities and special exhibitions gallery.

The Vindolanda Trust has some of the most important collections of ‘real life’ from the Roman world. Their museums are situated on the extensive remains of two Roman forts and civilian settlements on Hadrian’s Wall – England’s largest World Heritage Site. The HLF’s £4million grant will link the two sites and the proposed new gallery space and education centre have been designed to inspire the next generation of young archaeologists. A significant element of Vindolanda’s collection currently in storage will be on show for the first time.

Stowe Landscape Gardens in Buckinghamshire was created by some of the 18th century’s leading architects, sculptors and gardeners, including Capability Brown, John Vanbrugh and William Kent. Thanks to a grant of £1.5million, the original entrance to the Garden will be reinstated. By transforming the visitor experience, people will enjoy a greater understanding of what it would have been like to visit Stowe in its heyday.

Using money raised through the National Lottery, the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) sustains and transforms a wide range of heritage for present and future generations to take part in, learn from and enjoy. From museums, parks and historic places to archaeology, natural environment and cultural traditions, we invest in every part of our diverse heritage. HLF has supported more than 28,800 projects, allocating over £4.3billion across the UK.

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