Apparently, we are still living in the 19th century; at least that's what the BBC news website Magazine would have us believe. An article called, provocatively, "Murder, mayhem, and museums," suggests that lasting peace in Iraq may be accomplished through building museums out of Saddam's palaces. Certainly, by making something "part of history," within a museum, you remove its active power potential. But to rebuild/recreate civilization by making up museums?
Obviously I think this is more than a little problematic. Museums, as we know, are filled with power discourse, and can be considered colonial. The fact that the article interviews a curator from the British Museum (for many a symbol of the ultimate colonizing museum) just serves to underline the power disparities between the British and Iraqis.
Even more than that, I suggest that there is a disturbing class discourse here. Museums are not just places for the masses to be indoctrinated, they are also primarily middle-class sites of leisure. Middle-class intellectuals cannot be created or imposed just through building a museum; that layer of society takes a long time to build, and perhaps even longer to re-establish after traumatic events. You have to create the class first: by rebuilding universities, by creating an economy in which subsistence and survival are no longer the primary priorities, by protecting and encouraging freedom of speech and the arts. Then those people will decide what their museum will look like, and won't need the British Museum's fantasies about the cradle of civilization to patronizingly and condescendingly "help".
It is all so painfully Utopian: to pick and choose the acceptable bits of Iraqi history to commemorate, and to do so in acceptably Western ways: palaces of civilization, reclaimed by the people from tyrannical dictators, repurposed to represent new freedom while paradoxically celebrating the concentrated products of the resources of the previous social structure... Is this really what people want? Is it really how we see and use museums? Is this what museums are really about?
The Attic (a name which commemorates our first physical location) is, first and foremost, a site for the research students of the School of Museum Studies at the University of Leicester: a virtual community which aims to include all students, be they campus-based and full-time, or distance-learning and overseas. But we welcome contributions from students of museum studies - and allied subject areas - from outside the School and from around the world. Here you will find a lot of serious stuff, like exhibition and research seminar reviews, conference alerts and calls for papers, but there's also some 'fluff'; the things that inspire, distract and keep us going. After all, while we may be dead serious academic types, we're human too.