Why Is The British Museum So Dull?
I hate seeing museums dumbed down. The shameful ruination of the Maritime Museum and the ghastly disaster that is now the Bethnal Green Museum Of Childhood have dumbed history to the point of imbecility, but there is another extreme – to me at least, the British Museum, despite its blockbuster exhibitions, remains painfully boring.
Why are so few of the exhibitions placed in contexts that bring history alive for visitors? We look at a papyrus, we stand before a carved stone, but the fascination of the story resolutely fails to catch fire. On his excellent London blog The Great Wen, Peter Watts points up the same problems I felt when faced with an overwhelming amount of material not so much curated as dumped into a series of rooms.
‘The British Museum make museum-going into something worthy rather than fun. My fear is that thousands of people will push through heaving crowds to see this exhibition drawn by fawning publicity and out of a sense of duty, before emerging battered and bored, vowing to never visit another museum until the next blockbuster rolls into town.’
I couldn’t have put it better. The British Museum is an astonishing resource, but the sheer volume of history here is tricky to access, and is especially challenging for the young. When I was small, I vividly remember seeing the Pompeian body preserved in ash, and the very few things in the museum that looked human. No amount of broken pottery can capture the feeling of seeing history through the eyes of someone who lived.