Museum of London: Old & New

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Sriracha sauce, yum!

Visiting the Museum of London was a a unique museum experience compared to the other “traditional” museum we visited (or I’ve been to on my own). The London exhibit had recently been redone and the result was gorgeous! What the museum had done was talked to the youth in London about their understanding of London and take that information to form the exhibit around. This picture above was from a window that dealt with trade, and the sign reads “Much like today, goods were imported to Roman London from all over the world. Now almost everything has become mass-produced. Packaging tends to be made form plastic. Could you imagine carrying lots of heavy clay and glass jars home from the shops?” Inside of the glass was a collection of what the students that helped revamp the exhibit thought we would trade today. Seeing the bottles of sriracha sauce, olive oil and soy sauce mixed in with the clay pots (in the bottom left of the photo) was a strange sight. The juxtaposition between what was traded years ago and what might be traded today felt strange. It made me think about what we give value today as opposed to what used to be given that much value.

A few windows down from the bottles of sauces was a television screen with speakers emitting loud shouts! I took a closer look and watched a contemporary play on Roman Gladiators. Students were dressed up in Roman outfits and “covering” the Roman Gladiators as if it was a television show. There were also people dressed up and mock fighting; it was hilarious! Again I saw a contemporary play on something of history. It was weird at first to have a mock newscaster covering the gladiators, but then it started to be funny and make a lot of sense. By revamping and tweaking the historical context, it became more interesting to watch and I learned more about the gladiators from those few minutes on the television (there were facts thrown in there, it wasn’t just for entertainment value!) than I have from textbooks. It was more memorable.

Backtracking to the beginning of the London exhibit in the museum, I found one of Bernardine Evaristo’s poems on the wall. DSC_0037It reads:

Some nights we’d go to the river, sit on the beach,
look out towards the marshy islands of Southwark,

and beyond to the jungle that was Britannia,
teeming with spirits and untamed humans.

We’d try to imagine the world beyond the city, that country a lifetime away…

Bernardine Evaristo’s poetry is another instance where the museum is trying to have contemporary people interact with history in order to speak to our society. This poem is titled “AD50” and gives a human aspect, a human voice, to a history that at times seems flat and something difficult to interact with. The entire London exhibit breathes life into history that seems stagnant and hard to relate to. Evaristo does this as well in The Emperor’s Babe. She plays around with multiple languages (some old, some still in use) and adds in bits of modern slang that’s been coined within the past few years. We learned that Evaristo worked at the Museum of London in the Poetry Society, and it was clear the influence that she had on the museum and the museum had on her writing as well. Walking around London, through the museums and pubs and tourist sites, it’s clear that history is still alive in many ways today; it’s an integral part of Englishness.

Museum of London

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If you really wanted to watch me get really excited about something, you should see me at the museum of London. Initially I was excited for this excursion, I knew that we had plans to meet the curator for the Women’s Suffrage exhibit. What I didn’t know is exactly what we would be looking at and learning while we were there.

When we went to the back room with Beverly I was so impressed on how knowledgeable she was. It was truly impressive that she had met Tracy Chevalier and provided some of the historical facts for Falling Angels. She informed us that many people who have written books, or have made movies about the suffragette movement have contacted her for historical accuracy. Even though there were some inaccuracies within Falling Angels it is very impressive the amount of research that went into a book like that. To know that Tracy Chevalier was inspired by seeing the exhibit and seeing the same things that we saw while at the museum is interesting to see what elements from the exhibit made it into the book. One of the things that really struck me was the how the symbol of Joan of Arc and the Peter Pan-like figure were actually used with the women’s suffrage movement. In the novel Kitty is the person  who is dressed as Peter Pan, although in the images we saw the person was wearing tights under the costume. Unfortunately, I did not take a picute of the image while we were at the museum, but after much searching across the internet I did however find the image. (http://www.heritage-images.com/Preview/PreviewPage.aspx?id=1192490&pricing=true&licenseType=RM) In the novel Kitty decieded that she would wear the costume without the tights because she wanted to feel the breeze on her legs, after a lifetime of wearing heavy skirts. “For most of the march I felt as if I were walking through a dream… What I did feel sharply was the sun and air on my legs. After a lifetime of heavy dresses, with their swathes of cloth wrapping my legs like bandages, it was an incredible sensation.”We were however informed that Chevalier did use creative license here. In the novel the image of Joan of Arc appears on Women’s Sunday, a mass meeting of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU)

While we were in the Museum of London we also were able to look at the Londinium exhibit. This exhibit explored what life in Roman run Londinium would have been like. In our class we read The Emperor’s Babe by Bernardine Earisto, which explores the life of Zuleika in Londinium. One of the ways that the museum was able to inform the visitors what life would have been like when Romans controlled London was to look at Roman materials like money and then juxtapose it next to its modern-day counterpart. When I worked at The Cobblestone Museum last summer that was one of the methods we used to provide our visitors with context so that the items would not seem so foreign in their mind. For me seeing this exhibit after reading The Emperor’s Babe allowed me to get a better visualization of what Zuleika’s life would have been like.

Overall I was really impressed with the Museum of London. I wish that we had more time to explore there

More information on the Women’s Sunday

http://www.womenshistorykent.org/themes/suffrage/womenssunday.html