Blue: Museums in London

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Museums!

Blue pins represent the museums I visited throughout the two weeks of my trip. There are four blue pins on the map: The British Museum, Museum of London, National History Museum, and the Victoria and Albert Museum. Four famous museums catering to various ages and visitors, all defining space and Englishness with their contents.

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The Museum of London and National History Museum were both geared to a younger audience. The main exhibit I experienced in The Museum of London used students (both younger and older) to help create and make the experience more contemporary. Glass cases were filled with historical facts next to bottles of sriracha sauce and cell phones, showing us what we would potentially trade nowadays. The National History Museum was packed with young and set up to be easily accessible to children. Everything was colorful and very visual; many of the exhibits had audio and video to explain it’s significance instead of the traditional signs to read. Children could interact and learn from most of the exhibits. To be honest, I felt out of place and awkward in that particular museum. I didn’t fit in or learn anything I didn’t already know.

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British Museum

The British Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum are examples of the heterotopias that Michel Foucault describes in “Of Other Spaces, Heterotopias”:  “Museums and libraries have become heterotopias in which time never stops building up and topping its own summit, the idea of accumulating everything, of establishing a sort of general archive, the will to enclose in one place all times, all epochs, all forms, all tastes, the idea of constituting a place of all times that is itself outside of time and inaccessible to its ravages, the project of organizing in this way a sort of perpetual and indefinite accumulation of time in an immobile place, this whole idea belongs to our modernity.” The Victoria and Albert Museum is a heterotopia because it houses an immense amount of art (over 4.5 million objects!) from around the globe. Objects are placed next to each other that weren’t intended on being categorized together, but are preserved there to be on display for museum goers. Time and space have been broken down, controlled and ultimately erased by how the museum is laid out.

The British Museum, in my opinion, is the best example of a heterotopia. Historically significant artifacts are owned by the museum (the Parthenon sculptures, the Rosetta stone, sarcophagi, etc.) and on display for everyone to see. There is a piece of history from just about every important time period, all kept under one roof. Again, time is no longer linear when one walks through the museum, creating a heterotopia. Though I only visited four (five museums in total, but one isn’t mapped) the amount of museums and their importance defines Englishness. All four of the museums are there to show museum goers the power of the British and to teach people things that the British find important. The National History Museum and Museum of London might be geared towards a younger audience, but they are still displaying the power relations to the children. The Museum of London displays an incredible amount of preserved, animatronic, and reconstructed animals, showing off the technology and the knowledge the museum has (and London, of course). Same goes for the National History Museum, with it’s futuristic feel and high-tech displays. These museums perpetuate the image of the all powerful England that has everything; new technology, ancient pieces of history, more knowledge than anyone else has. A museum goer is meant to experience the museum and be awestruck and overwhelmed by the presentation. My experience in these museums was both enjoyable and critical. Once I caught on to what felt like the “real” purpose of the museums, I saw them in a different light. If you ever get a chance to visit any of these places, think about what the museums are really saying :P!

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