Museum of London reopening

My review of the Museum of London reopening appeared in yesterday’s Independent On Sunday. The museum has refurbished its entire collection from the Great Fire to the present day, something that necessitated closing down the lower-ground floor of the museum for four years. I’ve been on site at a number of times during the refurbishment, so had a good idea of what was intended, but was still hugely impressed (and, in a strange way, rather relieved as so many things can go wrong with these things) by the final result.

The museum now has a great blend of the old and new, with some genuinely impressive modern interactive but also loads of good old-fashioned things in cases. Check it out when it opens to the public on Friday May 28 (it is opening till 9pm on the first day). 

I suppose that a museum ideally wants the visitor feel they’ve ‘got it’ after just one visit, but not ‘got it’ so much that they won’t come back . They don’t want people to be so overwhelmed by information they can’t see what story the museum is telling, but they equally don’t want them to feel they’ve absorbed it all in one go, seen everything there is to see and so never bother returning. The Museum of London, I think, pulls off this delicate balancing act, while also being lots of fun, which is something every good museum wants and needs to be. 

Museum nerds might note that they also manage to subtly highlight a couple of their less appreciated areas of expertise – the excellent costume collection, which gets two strong displays – and their outstanding collection of oral history, which is used to tell the story of the Blitz.

I am particularly interested in oral history. These first-hand recollections from largely ordinary Londoners could be vitally important to future historians, and the museum continues to expand its collection at an impressive rate. One thing I firmly believe is that everybody has a fascinating story to tell, they just don’t always realise what it is about their lives that makes them unique and therefore interesting. Most people are too self-conscious when they write, so oral history is the best way to break down this barrier and capture those stories before they disappear forever.

Finally (and no, I’m not on the payroll), the museum also has a very good (and free) new iPhone app. Check it out here.


2 responses to “Museum of London reopening

  1. The Museum of London was always one of my favourites and it seems to have been a very long time since the reconstruction started. I think they have made an excellent job of it – especially the use of oral histories to tell the story of the blitz. Top marks!

  2. Not quite as optimistic as you about the MOL. Used to love going there, but in the last decade or so the place has become like many museums: it is ideal if you are a single mom who wants to drag her progeny out of the house for a few hours, especially if you are interested in a glorified play centre which is obsessed with gay, black and minority history. But if you want to escape the noisy, silly mess of everyday life, to contemplate the history of an amazing city, you will be out of luck.

    I think there is still a role for museums that are not noisy, politically correct theme parks for people looking after boisterous four year olds: and no I am not racist, sexist or homophobic, but definitely I am in a minority, it seems.

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