Museum of England would ‘ask uncomfortable questions’ about nation’s history says former British Museum director
A Museum of England is needed to “ask uncomfortable questions” about the nation’s history, a former British Museum director presenting a radio show about Penrhyn Castle near Bangor has said.
Neil MacGregor pointed out that Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland had their own national museums and asked “Why is there no Museum of England?” adding that “there is not anywhere that you can look at the history of England”.
His new show on Radio 4, The Museums That Make Us, will be visiting Penrhyn Castle and will focus on the connections between the family who own the estate and the source of their wealth, which was a slave plantation on Jamaica.
Asked by the Telegraph newspaper whether it was better for museums to avoid focusing on the exploitative nature of the British Empire, he answered: “But that’s what they are there for!
“Museums were set up to allow citizens to inform themselves. I think we’ve forgotten the fact that the purpose of [a museum] is like a library.
“Of course, there’s entertainment, but really it is to allow people to ask difficult questions and to encourage people to spend time with the uncomfortable questions. They’re the only ones that matter.”
He said that this was why a Museum of England was needed alongside one for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
“Museums are important because they complicate the narrative and, in the English political debate, it would be valuable to complicate the narrative – to underline how much conflict there has been, and how that conflict has been resolved, rather than this apparently seamless progression towards the perfection of now,” he said.
He regretted however that such a museum would no doubt be situated in London, “which makes you realise how very odd England is, with this unique – in Europe – obsession with unitary central power. Even the French have abandoned that.”
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