The Mystery of Museums

Members of the Year 10 Athenaeum have recently visited the Prince Philip Maritime Collections Centre in Kidbrooke and the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich.

The Prince Philip Centre, which opened in 2018, gave the students a fascinating insight into the world behind the scenes of a museum. Following a group exercise imaging the establishment of a new themed museum, they had a tour of the facility exploring how artefacts are evaluated, stored, photographed and maintained. One of the highlights was seeing restoration work being done on a three hundred year old painting.

The visit to the Maritime Museum allowed the students to build on work done by Head of History Dr Davies in last week’s session about how perceptions of the past are constantly shifting in the light both of new evidence and particularly concerns about how many versions of the past are selective and misrepresentative. Using the very live issue of the history of British Imperialism he showed the significant changes in view since the 1950 and the real sense in which history is a dialogue between the present and the past.

As the students explored the Maritime Museum they were given visible evidence of the process mentioned above as the gallery on the Atlantic which deals with the trade in enslaved people had a message next to the exhibition saying “work in progress”. An information panel then explained how this display ( only created in 2007) “ no longer reflects the approaches of ambitions of the National Maritime Museum.” The students explored the Museum not only to study the exhibits but to think about how museums operate: why do they include what they do, are they presenting a particular narrative, to what extent do they shape or reflect opinion?

In the spirit of the Scholarship Programme the day encouraged students to think across many disciplines and to constantly question and look “behind the scenes.”