What is authenticity? What is ‘real’? and does the past exist?
With her presentation Ceri Jones kicked off the second day of the Museum Studies Research Week with some of the most intriguing questions when dealing with, not only living history, which is her topic, but also when discussing museums and objects in general. For are history museums and their displays about the past? or are they more a testimony to how we today perceive the past? When engaging with an art object in the art museum can it tell you something about the past? (the artist’s feelings for example) or are you projecting your own perceptions of the past/the artist onto the canvas?
From a postmodern perspective authenticity and the aura of the past have long been contested, but they still seem to be concepts which continue to attract and fascinate us – the real objects are still powerful and lure us in.
Ceri’s way into this is though living history – the re-enactment (by actors) of a historic situation, event, person etc. in a museum in order to make the past become alive. But is it possible to create a real sense of the past? The goal is to immerse the audience in an experience where they feel touched by the past, where it becomes tangible and where it is not just about what happened and what it looked like, but also show museum users why people acted and understood the world as they did. The audience can have a dialogue with someone from the past – or that is what is pretended. Through case studies with younger students, older students and MA students, Ceri have started to investigate the reaction of the audiences to this type of re-enactment.
What I found the most interesting and perhaps also the most troubling was Ceri’s last comments about what living history seem to do – or not do. She described how the students engaged with the enactment in several ways, but they did not question the actual content of the play. To me that mean that the critical approach to history is being lost in this interpreting strategy as enactment history is. I think one of the most important lessons in history class is to be able to critically judge the way the past have been portrayed and to reflect on why we tell the tale of the past in a certain way. Having said that I think living history plays an important role in drawing the students in and making them interested in history – but this interpretation should not stand alone. What do you think?
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.