I find it very hard to succinctly write about a whole day spent at the Horniman Museum; there are a lot of interesting issues that one could tackle.
To start with, we were all divided into three groups, and each group had a 30 minutes tour in the three main galleries of the museum, i.e.: the musical instruments gallery, the anthropology gallery and the “Extremes” exhibition. After that, we were given the choice to tour with either one of the following departments; the Learning Department, the Exhibitions Department, the Aquarium, or the Conservation Laboratory.
I will not describe each one of the galleries with their contents, because I’m sure that you have absorbed all that needed to be absorbed and you wouldn’t want to hear the same things twice. Instead, I will try and talk about some of the things that struck me while touring this incredibly mesmerizing place, and perhaps give some food for thoughts.
I couldn’t help but compare the Horniman museum to the British Museum, and in turn to my home institution. Comparisons are always enlightening, and one gets to observe how museums adapt to the needs of a certain context, herein the society and/or community surrounding it and their respective history.
The Horniman Museum is firstly and foremostly a local family attraction. I felt that it was more communal and grassroots than the international hub that the BM is. One factor that gives it this facet certainly is its geographical location- away from the centre of London. Perhaps another factor is the way the building is architecturally integrated into the landscape, with the green areas surrounding it that provide a relaxing space that attracts families.
And so, it being smaller and more grassroot than the BM but bigger than the museum I work at, made it in a way easier for me to relate a few things in my mind about how we could better manage our Ethnography Museum, and also gave me a few personal insights. For instance, I thought that they had a very interesting and unique way of displaying their anthropology collection in the Centenary Gallery; it is not about individual world cultures categorized geographically or thematically. The gallery instead gives a broad idea about the history of the collection itself and of how it had been gathered- it portrays a general history of anthropology. More specifically, it depicts the history of anthropology through the eyes of various people who have across the years collected souvenirs and objects from specific cultures and brought them to the museum.
I should also mention how interesting it was to see the different creative and interactive ways that the museum has adopted in its displays; the gardens and playgrounds with outdoor objects or plants that relate to the collection they have, the different technologies and hands-on activities that they offer etc…
Finally, I chose to go discover the Aquarium and what hides behind its scenes. I realized that throughout the career path I intend to take, I might never come across the opportunity to have a special tour of such a department. All I can say is that it was so remarkable. On one hand, the work that aquarium curators need to do greatly differs from what I do. On the other hand, the scientific research that comes out of it is very interesting. Here are some photos of my visit since I have long passed the word limit.
Rhea Dagher / Lebanon