Friday, August 3, 2012

Is this allowed?

This doesn't quite relate to journalism, but I had a distinctly British-education experience this week that surprised me. I visited the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford on Tuesday with my religion class and was interested to see that in the Ancient Egypt section, some of the artifacts on display were completely available to the public. I’ve been to similar historical museums before in the States, and it seems like all of the items are always contained within glass cases unless it’s a large sculpture or painting.

In this section, there were some stones with hieroglyphics on them mounted on the wall, with information cards in front of them. No glass, no ropes blocking them off. Even more intriguing: there were no signs or anything saying not to touch them. I didn’t, because as a 21-year-old university student, I would rather not get yelled at for touching things I’m not supposed to in a museum. (Just in case it’s some well-known bit of English manners to just not touch it, without them having to warn you.)

I really liked this, though, because it made the artifacts and all of the information really accessible. I read about the stones and then was able to look at them up-close, in detail. Being inches away from a piece of history like that and getting to study it so easily was an amazing experience.

Has anyone else noticed this in other museums they've been to? Are there places in the States that are like this, too? 

 Okay, I might have touched this other one when no one was around. Don't tell on me!


  1. I was also a little surprised at the Roman Bath museum in Bath and how many of the artifacts were uncased, inviting people to touch them. I'm definitely one of those people who like to be able to touch the artifacts in order to create a connection with it. In Bath, I was touching EVERYTHING. I wasn't exactly sure if it was allowed, but I figured, that if there's nothing encasing it, then it's fair game!

  2. The weekend before I left the States, I had the pleasure of touring Boston-one of the most history-laden cities in America. I thoroughly enjoyed the Freedom Trail and other famous sites, but that experience really heightened my appreciation for museums in Europe. Every museum I've visited here (Oxford, London, Bath, Bristol, Paris) has been extremely interactive. Not only are items out in the open to touch, the exhibitions come with audio guides, narratives, life size mannequins, stamp booklets and other engaging features for children and adults alike. As Jessica pointed out, instead of glassing up the Roman Baths for tourists to view in a walk-around, visitors journey through the Baths. You are literally weaving your way on paths of stone that are hundreds and hundreds of years old. It would seem the European approach to appreciating history is one of emersion as well as exhibition. I definitely understand the need for caution in preserving important items, but I wish America would ease up a little on the DON’T DO ANYTHING EXCEPT FOR LOOK AT THIS ON PAIN OF DEATH policy commonly employed. We can look at things all day; history doesn’t have an effect unless we learn from it. I’m much more likely to do that when I’m feeling something-no pun intended.