16 July, 2007

Museum of London

Today we were fortunate to be given a lecture by the Senior Curator of Prehistory at the Museum of London. The museum was built in 1976 after the staff and collections of the Guildhall Museum (1825) and the London Museum (1911) combined. It is the largest urban history museum in the world and has an on site staff of 150 employees. The museum receives half of its funding from the government and half from donations and charitable contributions. When the staff decided to remodel the museum in 2002, they wanted to shift the focus of the collections from objects, to people. They wanted people to be able to experience the collections interactively. I was able to touch many replicas of artifacts such as ancient spears and clay pots. What I like the most about the museum is that the collections are arranged chronologically, not thematically.

I was most interested in the museum's Great Fire of London Exhibit currently on display. I did my student teaching in England and remembered that the Great Fire was in the history curriculum for my year one students. I enjoyed reading about what possessions Londoners took with them as they fled the flames. Some people actually buried their wine and Parmesan cheese for safe keeping until after the fire died out. One woman even brought her chickens with her in the pockets of her apron!

I was saddened to read that booksellers buried all of their books and papers in the Chapel of St. Faith at St. Paul's cathedral which later succumbed to the flames as well. One of the displays discussed the problems that came about in the chaos of the disaster such as mobs, price gauging, and looting. Ms. Wright brought up the point that we experienced those same problems in New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. That really put things into perspective for me and made me realize how little people actually change with the times.