On the 1st of April we published the first ‘Museum Monthly’, a newspaper of general interest from the Rossendale Museum, used at Tony’s Fresh Fishmongers in Rawtenstall to wrap up the fish & chips.
Each month a collage of texts and images will be selected by a group of enthusiasts or young people in Rossendale, that in some way reflects their relationship to nature. This information is then compiled to create a limited edition newspaper that playfully links the museum with the local community, while extending and contextualising the new light on old bones research.
We felt that it was important to take a look at today’s attitudes alongside historical analysis and research, as only then can we start to understand how things may have changed, and how our perception and understanding of historical contexts, is informed by contemporary contexts and attitudes. We wanted to spend time looking at current parallels to some of the impulses that writers and readers of this blog suggest may have led to the collection and presentation of the natural history collection in Rossendale.
How does our current (social) condition affect the way we relate to and value the natural world? Do we still collect and archive nature in the same way that we have in the past? If the collection and display of nature, and a fascination with the exotic, was a response to life and a reflection of social values during the industrial revolution, then what are the contemporary equivalents? What is the new exotic? What is now valued in a similarly nostalgic or romantic way? Has a nostalgic view towards nature and rural life within an industrial age, been superseded by a nostalgic view towards the idea of community in today’s semi-urban Lancashire, or even, for some, by a sense of nostalgia towards the industrial period?
When the Rossendale Museum first opened it was referred to as a ‘museum of general interest‘, housing and presenting predominantly contemporary exhibits that revealed (and politicised) something about the world and attitudes of the time. Today the majority of the museum is devoted to the display of historical artifacts, perceived and experienced as a site that preserves and documents the past. With the Museum Monthly we would like to start challenging this perception, suggesting that the role of a museum (including a museum that specialises in social or natural history) should be as much about looking at and studying the present than the past. In many ways it already is, and always will be (in terms of how the experience might lead to reflection on one’s situation and the human condition), but it seems that traditional research and curatorial processes sometimes bypass their own subjective position, or that of the ever-changing viewer. If we root our curatorial response in the present, it will help us connect and make the collections feel relevant. Our understanding of today’s enthusiasts, collectors and archivists will inevitably inform the way one chooses to expand upon the existing NLOB research and engage with the local community.
All of this brings me to ask the readers of this blog: ‘what should the function of a museum be today, or even tomorrow?’
The press and participants from Belmont School arrive for a photoshoot with Tony outside the chippy.
The first edition: “Dust never hurt anyone”
The first edition, titled ‘dust never hurt anyone’, is a collage of responses from a group of year 9 students at Belmont School. The material and content for the paper was collected during an afternoon workshop at the school. Initial discussions focused on the school allotments, which were clearly very important to the pupils we were working with, before moving on to earth, fire, being outdoors and getting your hands dirty. ‘Nature’ was not about mountains, forests, lakes or seas, but about more elemental and physical experiences, placed as much in domestic or cultivated settings, as out in the ‘wild’. The students went on to build a temporary sculpture garden that illustrated some of their ideas, using materials that could be found on the allotments.
We’d like to thank all the students from Belmont School for sharing their thoughts with us, and Orbital Design for sponsoring the project. We look forward to future editions of the paper, including contributions from local mountaineering enthusiasts Diana Maddison and Robert Macdonald, the Rossendale Rugby Club, and the East Lancashire Railway Preservation Society. The next Museum Monthly will be published on the 1st of May. A framed copy of the paper will be kept at the museum.
(Before anybody complains about readability it has been written in four directions to account for the way the paper is folded in the chippy!)