Review: "Public Archaeology", Chapter 4 (Nick Merriman)

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a personal remarks on "Chapter 4: Involving the Public in Museum Archaeology", from the book "Public Archaeology" by Nick Merriman, Routledge: 2004

a personal remarks on "Chapter 4: Involving the Public in Museum Archaeology", from the book "Public Archaeology" by Nick Merriman, Routledge: 2004

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  • 1. Seminar in Cultural Resource Management Wednesday, 14:45-16:45 Maharani Dian Permanasari Cultural Resource Management Program 1 REVIEWED TEXT: Public Archaeology By Nicholas Merriman, Routledge: 2004 Personal Remarks of “CHAPTER 4: Involving the Public in Museum Archaeology” Summary The author emphasizes the relationship between archaeology, heritage, and the public. In this chapter, he explains how Britain’s museums open up to enjoyment and participation by a wider range of people. Most of the case studies written in this chapter are taken from Britain museums. Main focus of this chapter is on initiatives that are being undertaken in the UK, and how some of them represent a new way forward for a more publicly oriented concept of archaeology as a discipline which is balances the needs of the academic community with the public. Outline of Presentation 1. Introduction • In introduction phase, the author mentions some function of museums. Historically, archaeological museums tend to serve only the needs of the academic discipline of archaeology over the wider public. However, archaeology, heritage, and the public cannot be separated. This chapter explains how museums in Britain initiated “publicly oriented concept of archaeology” and opened up to enjoyment and participation by a wider range of people/public. 2. The Power of Museums • Museums have powers that distinguish it from its basic functions. • Museums as mass media of the long term; visited by large numbers of people over a long period of time. In the UK, visiting museums and galleries is more popular as an activity than watching live sporting event (MORI/Resource 2001:7). • Museums are powerful media of representation because they deal with the very material on which claims to identity and truth rest. –Why? • Museums as a tool to justify claims of archaeological ‘backwards’ projects in ownership of identity. – The idea of a shared ownership of identity. (Pg. 86 par. 2) • Museums as powerful cultural and civic symbols, thus making it fundamental targets in conflict. • Museums communicate the past. – To what extent? 3. Archaeological Museums as Servants of Archaeology • Principal social roles of the archaeological museum: housing of archaeological evidence, and demonstration of a legitimating presence in the landscape that links the past with present. • Historically, archaeological museums focused on the preservation and documentation of their collections, and on the academic needs of the discipline of archaeology, and particularly in Europe restricted to undertaking fieldwork, and storing the results of survey and excavation (Biddle 1994). • Archaeological museums have been ‘top-down’ institutions where the curators dispensed displays to a passive audience. The training of archaeological curators has been in archaeology, not in communication, and museum archaeologists have tended to look to their colleagues in archaeological community for their validation and approval, rather to the non-specialists public as a whole. • Those conditions led to a marginalisation of museum archaeology, whereby it is seen to be remote from the interests of most people today (Merriman 1991: 96-103). 4. The Turn towards the Public • Some approaches to overcome this lack of focus mentioned before are the community museum movement since 1960s, from the most extreme case in Croydon Museum, to more successful cases (proper balance for museum’s and public’s needs) such as: o Fishbourne Roman Villa Museum o Museum of London o Jorvik Viking Centre o Anacostia Neighborhood Museum in Washington DC, USA. • Archaeological museums began to experience considerable advances in the technology of presentation through the use of models, dioramas, ‘reconstructions’ and audio-visuals in new initiatives to make museums more attractive to visitors, and to combine greater leisure time and disposable income.
  • 2. Seminar in Cultural Resource Management Wednesday, 14:45-16:45 Maharani Dian Permanasari Cultural Resource Management Program 2 • Some successful way of presenting archaeology might be by offering ‘experiences’, ‘re-enactments’, first-and-third interpretation that is used in the US and led to its adoption in open-air sites such as Ironbridge Gorge Museum, UK. • In this new kinds of museums, some characteristics are: more self-reflective, more ‘owned’ by their communities, to work in partnership with different interest groups, and to represent different voices in their presentations. Their keynote was on the participation and involvement of the local community in developing museums that met their own needs. In theory: the museum was to be run by, and orientated towards, the local people who lived in the area. 5. The Access and Inclusion Agenda • Partly inspired by the success of community museum, UK government has been giving social agenda for their museums to ensure that public services are accountable to taxpayers and serve the needs of the entire community. Elected in 1997 on a manifesto, which included improvements in education, tackling social exclusion and providing access for all to public services, the Labour government has required all of its ministries to contribute in this agenda. • The Department for Culture, Media and Sport initiated an agenda favoured by local government, educational service, and funding agencies. Their approaches place a high priority on the promotion of access to cultural heritage, and the development of educational service. • As a result, archaeological museums find themselves in a climate in which their funding bodies, and the public at large, are looking to them to develop programs which engage contemporary audiences, relevant not only to traditional visitors but also reach out and connect with people who normally do not visit museums or have any particular interest in archaeology. –Public before Collections Management 5.1. Digital Access o Principal ways in which access to archaeological collections is being promoted is through the placing of collections information and images on the Internet. o Several case examples of museums which has internet access of their collections:  Hampshire Museum Service  The Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology at University College London  Manchester Museum  Hunterian Museum, Glasgow  Museum of Antiquities of the University of Newcastle  Alexandria Archaeology Museum in Virginia, USA  The National Museum of Wales  The British Museum, in a similar project undertaken in the National Museums and Galleries on Merseyside as part of the JASON project o Some advantages of virtual information resource/digital access:  Provides searchable, full on-line collections information, in illustrated catalogue, some objects movies and virtual exhibitions.  Also provides explanations on details of museum’s programs, activities, events, publications, merchandising, and other related topic on museums (including ‘behind the scenes’ info, storage facility, laws on archaeological preservation, etc.). o Some paradox about digital access on collections of the museums:  Access to the Internet is not generally affordable to all.  There is a fairly close match between Internet users and those who tend to visit museums. Non-visitors tend also to be non-users of the Internet.  The use of digital media to provide ‘access’ to museum archaeological collections, can actually take people away from the real objects themselves by focusing their attention on digital reproductions of them. 5.2. Behind the Scenes o Some examples on bringing users into closer contact with the museum’s collections through the opening up of storage and other ‘back-of-house’ facilities such as conservation, handling of collections in discovery centres and loan boxes, and through programmes of outreach beyond the museum building itself, so that the visitors could watch and observe closer. o Several examples from some museums:
  • 3. Seminar in Cultural Resource Management Wednesday, 14:45-16:45 Maharani Dian Permanasari Cultural Resource Management Program 3  Verulamium Museum St. Albans  The Museum of London’s Archaeological Archive and Research Centre  Archaeological Resource Centre in York  National Museum of Wales  Conservation Centre in Liverpool, which is part of the National Museums and Galleries on Merseyside. o Visitors are, it seems, invited to admire the technical processes, which are exposed; the extent of the collections; and the expertise and scientific prowess of the museum staff, but not question the fundamentals of what they do or why they do it. 5.3. Hands-on the Past o Visitors are able to touch and handle archaeological collections by some activities arranged by the museums. o Several examples of “hands-on the past” activities:  Archaeological Resource Centre (ARC), York  Discovery Centre at the National Museum of Scotland  Hampshire Museum Service’s hands-on centre: SEARCH  ‘The Dig’, The Museum of London o Despite the educational benefits of hands-on or discovery learning for visitors, this program seems to be popular and may well justify themselves from the enjoyment that provide through the experience of handling ancient objects alone, rather than through any enhanced learning which they may or may not stimulate. It is also uncertain how far such hands-on initiatives actually broaden the audience for archaeology. 5.4. Loan Boxes o Museum attempt to widen hands-on access and broaden the profile of their audiences through one of their services in educational outreach. o Several examples of “loan service” activities run by museums:  Reading Museum  Museum of London o Museums lend some of their selected collections along with replicas that support schools’ curriculum, so students can examine and handle some objects. As a further scheme to overcome the demands of loan boxes, museums give some of their collections to poorest schools in order to make their own permanent mini-museum while museums make use of its material, which was archaeologically relatively unimportant. 5.5. Outreach and Inclusion o Outreach in this context involves moving beyond the traditional/static into dynamic exhibitions, in order to deliver service and grow some sense-of-belonging to non-traditional venues and audiences. o Some examples of the ‘moving museums’ brought out to the community:  Mobile Museum by the Museum of London.  The National Museum of Scotland’s ‘Discovery on the Move’.  County museum services of Shropshire, Herefordshire, and Worcestershire have come together to develop a ‘Museum on the Move’, which is specifically aimed at providing a community museum service to isolated rural communities, many of them suffering from considerable poverty.  Glasgow Museum Service o Some advantages of outreach and inclusion:  Taking mobile museums directly out to the community & publicize itself  Introducing the importance of “understanding the past” by some handle-able real & replica objects o Some paradox about outreach and inclusion:  Archaeological collections that are being exhibited mostly not resonated with people’s lives today, especially those who feel excluded from museums  Visitors are selected specifically, where their involvement are needed in developing the exhibitions (so the process is as important as the final product)
  • 4. Seminar in Cultural Resource Management Wednesday, 14:45-16:45 Maharani Dian Permanasari Cultural Resource Management Program 4 6. Archaeology and Cultural Diversity • Initiatives that are targeted minority groups as visitors and participants in their program, in order to establish connection between archaeological material and the visitor’s experience. In doing so, the museums initiated projects that involved members of minority groups who previously felt unrepresented and unwelcome in the museum. So far, some related projects are: o ‘The Peopling of London’, project at the Museum of London in 1993-94 o The Cuming Museum in Southwark reaches out to schools and community centres. • By concentrating on the notion of ‘place’, archaeological collections can make connections with audiences and put the notions of a shared identity rooted in a deep common past to them. 7. The ‘Art of Archaeology’ • Approaches through emphasizing the creative & imaginative ways in which archaeological collections can be used to inspire audiences, thus bring new visitors to the museums. Some examples: o Mark Dion’s project: “Tate Thames Dig” of 1999 o Society of Museum Archaeologists’ project: “The Art of Archaeology” o Nottingham City Museums and Galleries’ project: “Archaeology Revealed” o Shropshire Archaeology Service o Herefordshire Museums’ projects: “A History of Ceramic Technology” o North Lanarkshire Museum; Worcester City Museum with their workshops in creativity • The majority of the projects were successful in bringing new uses & audiences to archaeological collections, though it is still unclear yet what the effects are or how long-term they may be. 8. Observations • How archaeological museums re-orienting themselves to the public represent a new way of thinking of archaeology: “what archaeology can do for the public?” in a sense archaeology not only for the discipline as a subject, but also balance with a commitment to deliver something back to present-day communities. • In the UK, many works of archaeological museums lead the way, mainly because of the pressures exerted by non-archaeological impulses on the museums profession as a whole. However, the notion of engaging with audiences, providing access & use of archaeological collections and knowledge, and providing services for different parts of the community is an exciting prospect for a more publicly oriented archaeology. 8.1. The Return to the Object o How do museums present objects to the visitors affect the whole outcomes from visitors:  Aesthetic approach: treats the collections essentially as if they are art objects –but they have different meanings from art piece  Museum archaeologists should understand how to design activities or display that are providing historical interpretations to avoid the artefacts ‘speak for themselves’ 8.2. Use of ‘Informed Imagination’ o Introduce historical contextualisation alongside the affective, hands-on, and creative approaches outlined earlier. It is based on the knowledge of the archaeological & historical context of the material provided by the expertise of the curators; but which acknowledges diversity of views, the contingency of archaeological interpretations; and encourages imagination and enjoyment in the visitors’ own constructions of the past. o New kind of approach to archaeological interpretation in the museum: provides emotional, experiential narrative, which draws on poetry & fiction and by implication invites visitors to construct their own stories from the evidence and information they see in the galleries. o Interpretation of the archaeological past in museums can offer an exciting prospect for the future if: visitors’ and public’s understanding are placed at the forefront; and in which the best work on opening up collections can be allied with innovative approaches to narrative and contextualisation. • The author finally suggests to fellow archaeologists and museum professionals not to hold back through fear of the disapproval of the peers, but rather to put more attention towards the views of the public (as museums’ potential visitors and stakeholders).