Report criticised for calling Wales’ national museums ‘too narrowly Welsh’

National Museum of Wales. Picture by Ham II (CC BY-SA 3.0)

A report on Wales’ national museums has been criticised after it called on them to abandon a “narrowly Welsh” perspective on history.

The report was written by Dr Simon Thurley, who served as Chief Executive of English Heritage from April 2002 to May 2015, on behalf of the Welsh Government.

The report was completed last year but will be debated at the Senedd today.

The report criticises Wales’ museums for being unambitious and suggests that they focus instead on the history of Wales as part of the British Empire.

“My main criticism was a lack of ambition in the story that was being told,” he said. “These sites were presented as if they were telling part of the social history of a small country.

“Whereas they could be telling the story of how Wales, a small country, together with its larger neighbours England and Scotland, transformed the world in the 19th century.”

The change would make the museums more interesting for tourists “from outside Wales”, Dr Thurley said.

“Wales played a crucial role in the British century and its raw materials and know-how made a major contribution to the industrial revolution and the empire,” he said.

“Of course the human story in Wales is interesting and compelling, but so is the big picture of how Wales, as part of Britain, changed the face of the globe.”

Perspective

Dr Thurley’s recommendation was criticised by Elfed Wyn Roberts, the author of a petition asking that the history of Wales be taught in schools.

His petition, signed by 4821 people, calls on the Welsh Government to change National Curriculum to teach Welsh history, from a Welsh perspective, in Primary, Secondary and Sixth form Schools.

“Wales’ museums should celebrate Wales’ history, its workers and its peasantry,” Elfed Wyn Roberts said.

“It’s disgraceful that they would seek to reduce Wales’ history to its contribution to England and Scotland.

“We have the history of the Welsh Princes, the Merthyr Rising and the battle for the Welsh language and these should teach the Welsh to take pride in how we stood on our own two feet.

“The history of how we served the British Empire doesn’t do that.”

Government Cabinet Secretary, Ken Skates welcomed Dr Thurley’s report, saying that it was “balanced, thoughtful and impartial”.

“The review is a key step to help the Welsh Government identify the most appropriate ways in which we can help ensure Amgueddfa Cymru continues to thrive in the future, in what continue to be challenging financial times.”

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