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Museum of England would ‘ask uncomfortable questions’ about nation’s history says former British Museum director

06 Mar 2022 2 minutes Read
Neil MacGregor picture by Lesekreis (CC BY-SA 4.0).

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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Nia James
Nia James
2 months ago

A lot of people in England are nervous about having conversations about England’s history, and therefore they wrap themselves in the blankets of Britain and Britishness (and what they perceive to be the glorious past). An English Museum would, hopefully, make them confront some of their historical misdemeanours.

I.Humphrys
I.Humphrys
2 months ago
Reply to  Nia James

Yes, it’s a fig leaf.

Welsh_Siôn
Welsh_Siôn
2 months ago

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. __________ Let’s not forget the chwarelwyr llechi, who also enabled the Douglas-Pennants to live in the style to which they were accustomed – whilst the labourers toiled for a pittance in all weathers, facing all sorts of dangers and hazards.. And will there be any mention of the Great Strike – the longest industrial dispute in ‘British’ history? We… Read more »

Last edited 2 months ago by Welsh_Siôn
Y Cymro
Y Cymro
2 months ago

The problem with a history of England Museum is that first it would have to feature the true origins of the English nation & people. How the English are made up of various Germanic tribes that came from Europe. Tribes such as the Saxons, Jutes, Angles. And they must also include not exclude the foundation people of England itself being us Cymry who inhabited lands to the East now lost aptly named Lloegr. And sure, I’ll be man enough to admit, England has indeed done much good in the world, but they’ve also done terrible things, unspeakable acts & atrocities… Read more »

Rob
Rob
2 months ago

Every country has its own dark past, and England is no different. I don’t see anything wrong with any country celebrating its culture and identity, and I take issue with those trying to make modern day countries feel guilty or accountable for crimes committed by their ancestors centuries ago whether its imperialism, genocide or slavery etc. No rationally minded person would seriously expect Germany of the 21st century to be held accountable for what the Nazis did 80 years ago. But what is important is that we learn from our mistakes so that these crimes do not happen again. What… Read more »

I.Humphrys
I.Humphrys
2 months ago
Reply to  Rob

You take issue with those who “try to make modern day countries feel guilty”. By “those” you must mean countries who are demanding compensation, because for those these crimes are just yesterday. Many in India alone, have picked a figure of 45 trillion pounds! The reason many of these countries have not done so, may be their relative weakness, but if current events lead to a multi polar world with Asia stronger, I’m already worried about the amount Cymru will have to pay. Damn that Empire!

Last edited 2 months ago by I.Humphrys

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