Sunday, October 4, 2015

History in Museums

This week was full of adventures. On Wednesday I went on a Community and Culture field trip to the Museum of London Docklands. We were specifically interested in the slavery and sugar exhibit, although the rest of the museum was quite interesting as well. 

A lot of the history about slavery and sugar growing in colonies I had already learned in history during middle and high school. Much of that story overlaps with what we learned in U.S. history, but the story of what was happening in England didn’t. It was interesting to learn about the people of African descent living in England not as slaves, but as free people. For example, one portion of the exhibit talked about the few that made it into the wealthier upper or middle classes. Many of the people mentioned did so through their relationships with wealthy white members of society, either through marriage or some other relationship. The exhibit also discussed how these people, lucky as they were to enjoy a relatively privileged life, were never quite treated as equals by the rest of the white upper class. It was a weird juxtaposition to see them as members of a family, with money in their own right, but still viewed as somehow less than those around them. 

One thing I especially liked about the exhibition was that it did a great job depicting history from multiple view points. It had individual stories from slaves, merchants, and others, but also had bigger picture explanations of the beliefs, politics and economics of the time. It was a very comprehensive exhibit because of this. 

Continuing with the theme of learning about history I also visited the Tower of London this week. The Tower has a very different history than the Docklands area, but I was equally impressed at the quality of the exhibits. Here I learned more about royal history while viewing the crown jewels, the armor collections, and the towers where so many important events took place. The Beauchamp Tower, with all of the engravings in its walls from prisoners there was particularly impressive. Similarly to the Docklands museum this exhibition did a great job sharing the stories of individuals kept at the Tower, rather than just a broad history. I also got to learn about the symbolism of the crown jewels and how they’re still used today. 

King Henry VIII's armor on a model horse and man

Art commemorating the private execution site on Tower Green

An elaborate carving in the walls of the Beauchamp Tower 
An actress plays Lady Kingston in a short play depicting the events leading up to the coronation of Anne Boleyn 

I was very impressed by both of these historical places. London does a great job of displaying its history for all to learn about - both the amazing and the dreadful events of the past are explained and displayed. This kind of history exhibition is so much better than one that promotes only one side, because it helps visitors gain more understanding of the places where they are, and of why events occurred. 
The Tower of London is huge!

Me, enjoying a nice day at the Tower

The White Tower, which houses the armor displays and a lot of other history.

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