Wednesday, 13 September 2017

BM Dumbdown

In the 'encyclopaedic museum': British Museum careful not to use too many 'confusing' Asian names Twitter #AskACurator 13th September 2017

... We aim to be understandable by 16 year olds.
 So the British public is fobbed off with information about foreign cultures represented by objects in this 'universal' collection usable only to the level of a sixteen-year old. The rest of us, with reading abilities above that of a teenager, are short-changed - as are the cultures thus represented.

I think those of us (the ones with reading level above a fourth form kid) who are grateful to those of our teachers who achieved (and thus gave to us) a lot are well aware that these were generally the one who made high demands on us and our abilities, not the jobsworths who did not encourage us to push ourselves.  Dumbdown is not education.  Stick a QR text box on the label for the slow-of-reading to pick up a superficial soundbite on their phones. Give the rest of us information.

Vignette: Jane "Keeper of Asia"


Paul D., Paderborn, Germany said...

Dear Mr. Barford,

a museum label is not meant to be a substitute for books, magazine articles, well-made television documentaries etc. All these paths are
open to those wishing for more in depth information, including the ancient Chinese words for "temple", "ritual bowl", "coffin" or "god".

So I cannot say I see the grounds for your complaint.


Paul Barford said...

so why have museums? What are the labels for?

Paul D., Paderborn, Germany said...

The specific function of a museum, at least from a visitors' perspective, is to provide visual access to objects. In depth information on them can be provided much for comfortably via books, articles, films. Many of those are published by museums, including the British Museum. So I don't see any "short-changing".

All the label has to do is to provide some very brief and easy to understand context to the object on display. There is no need to try and impress the visitors by using
ancient Chinese words.

No one benefits by from a label that reads: "This sdfhskf was used by the skfde to perform the annual dhksafla in the royal zuerdskjd." Ups ... I just noticed that "royal" is an English word that does not quite capture all the nuances of "asfasef".

Paul Barford said...

Mere 'visual access to objects' is what picture books and websites (even eBay) can provide. We have museums not as 'boxes of objects', but scholarly institutions where research and education are done. They should disseminate that knowledge or just pack up and leave the dumbdown to others.

'No one benefits', except those who go to a museum to seek the knowledge is embodies. As an archaeologist, I can go behind the scenes and talk about 'asfasef', or whatever, to my heart's content, that however is a museum as an elitist institution, one face for the plebs, one face for the enlightened with access. The point is is not a museum there to provide proper access to knowlege for all who crave it, rather than assuming ad priorem that nobody these days wants anything less superficial than lowest-common-denominator dumbdown?

What do we pay these people for? Crap science?

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