Monday 13 July 2020

What is this? Public Education in the Age of Dumbdown [UPDATED]

Yorkshire Museums staff fulfilling their gatekeeper fantasies, shouting:

"WHAT IS THIS"?  What this is is an example of the "educational role" of Yorkshire museum. They think some dumbdown "let's make fun of the archaeology" will get people better informed about their past and the way we study it. It seems in the UK, the development of museums has gone in full circle, from "cabinets of curiosities" through institutions with a serious culture-forming and educational/research purpose back to being merely amusing "curiosity showcases".

When I wrote that, 'Washer of Hands' (@chkaboom)   responded:
You’re new to humor [sic], aren’t you? 
and Paige (@paigey)    added:
Yes, God forbid a museum try to make archaeology fun and relatable for the average person! There's no way they could be both and thus they've lost all credibility! 
I would say that: "(I'm an expert) here's a funny looking brown thing, guess what it is" is not archaeology.  Playing childish games with artefacts does not give anyone 'credibility', just reinforces the impression that archaeology is playing childish guessing games with artefacts. When the public are encouraged by stunts like this to see the past as just a space for guessing games, this is why widespread uncritical acceptance of "ancient aliens", "Dendera Lightbulb" and the other pseudo-archaeological beliefs take hold. But hey, "that's fun too, no?"

In addition, it should not be neglected that in the majority of cases, complete Anglo-Saxon shield bosses reach UK museums after having been removed from a human burial - that in itself raises ethical questions, but when the grave goods are used for "humour" I would say even more so. If this artefact had been removed from a Native American burial, or from a Polish 'shetl' Jewish cemetery, would it be appropriate to play guessing games with it? Do UK museums respect the dead or do they turn burial remains into attention-grabbing entertainment?

UPDATE 14.07.20
Animal, Vegetable and Mineral (1956)
And here's the subsequent "archaeological outreach"
Yorkshire Museum@YorkshireMuseum·1 g.
We loved your lies! [emoticon]
Now for the truth... This is actually an Anglian iron shield boss from Sowerby (dating from C5th- mid 7th). Spiked bosses like this sat in the centre of circular wooden shields, turning them into deadly weapons as well as items for defence. #LieToMe
Hmmm, 38 words. The average person learns that a loose object is "somehow" dated (by the experts who are not telling you how or where you can find out). It is (we are told) from "a shield" - but how do "the experts" know that? The shields were "round" (how do the experts know?) but what size they were is not said. The "boss" was used as a weapon because it is "spiked", but has a flat tip in the photo, no mention of what was behind the boss, is it solid or hollow? Neither is the size of this object stated, because there is no scale.  What does it mean "sat"? Stuck? Screwed, riveted, inserted into?

This is really communicating archaeology at about the same level and on the same model as the ancient TV series "Animal, Vegetable or mineral" where a panel of experts expounded eruditely about an object. This is just gatekeeping of the worst possible kind, and it is not surprising that the 'average person' in the British public have next to no idea about archaeology.

OK, so as not to just be the nasty critic.... How about doing it the other way round? Show an object with, say, a 38 word description and let the public challenge be "draw what the complete object looked like just based on our description" and then discuss the drawings, why this or that is right/wrong and use that as a learning experience how to actually describe something in a way that means something to the average member of the public (that word "boss" for example, at least they did not try 'umbo'). Come on British archaeology, more engagement instead of fob-off dumbdown in order to position yourselves as the condescending "experts".

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