Picture of BMAG stairs by danie_saurus

McAdam: museums must face reality of British Empire

Jonathan Knott, 06.11.2015
Directors stress role of museums in shaping narratives of change
Britain has been “extraordinarily bad and extraordinary slow” at facing up to the historical reality of its empire, said Ellen McAdam, director of Birmingham Museums Trust at the Museums Association annual conference today.

She envisaged that addressing Birmingham’s role in the British Empire, including the “stories of the places and people whose histories were changed by the fact of empire” would be a key part of the trust’s new Collecting Birmingham project.

She also expected the project to involve a “pretty wholesale abandonment” of the approach of Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery’s first director Sir Whitworth Wallis, who aimed to provide improving examples for the city’s artisans.

“We have to understand how we can make this great encyclopaedic collection interesting and engaging to the audiences who live in Birmingham now, not in 1885”, she said.

Tim Desmond of the Egalitarian Trust said museums could improve engagement with their collections by “taking them home” to key locations in the industries they relate to. His institution holds outreach education sessions in courtrooms like the Royal Court of Justice in London. Desmond said the legal profession had welcomed the initiative “with open arms”.

He summed up his vision by saying: “museums can contribute to a classless society by providing narratives of historical change.”


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MA Member
10.11.2015, 00:54
There's hardly a country in the world that has an unblemished history, so i am not sure which former imperial power but modern day nirvana the director is comparing Britain to: France, Spain, Belgium, Russia, China, Sweden, Denmark, Oman, ... ???? Perhaps rewrite to say Britain has not yet faced up to the historical reaility of its empire. That would be a more accurate description of the reality.

MA Member
11.11.2015, 13:54
I'm keen to learn more about the 'classless society' that Egalitarian Trust is building. When is this society and does one need a visa?