Masterpieces of Taxidermy 📍Museum für Naturkunde, Berlin

Hi all,

There are lots of fantastic museums around the magnificent capital of Germany; particularly in Museum Island. But if you venture about 20 minutes outside of MuseumInsel, you will find Museum für Naturkunde. The Museum is integrated within the Leibniz Association – famously one of the most important research institutions in the world for biological and geological evolution and biodiversity. Over 800,000 visitors get to experience the wonder of this spectacular natural history museum and I feel very lucky to have visited this year. Natural History collections are my absolute favourites because I love seeing how nature has developed throughout history, the similarities and differences between species and the ways that biology, geology and taxonomy can be explored in museums.

My favourite gallery by far was named “Masterpieces of Taxidermy”; where unique specimens are displayed and the museum gives a great insight into the inner workings of a natural history museum. The gallery displayed a huge range of taxidermy specimens alongside highlights of preparation cases which showcased how different species are prepared for display or storage. The Museum für Naturkunde is a leader in the field of taxidermy preparation with professionals at the museum developing innovative methods, sharing best practice through workshops and setting high standards for other institutions.

The gallery, as the name suggests, exhibits examples of masterful taxidermy prepared in Berlin. Bobby the Gorilla who had died at Berlin Zoo in 1935 is still regarded one of the best examples of taxidermy in the world. Prepared by German taxidermists Karl Kaestner and Gerhard Schröder, Bobby is still a highlight specimen for visitors 80 years on!

Another spectacular display is the model of a Dodo, an extinct flightless bird that was native to the island of Mauritius. Taxidermists’ used biological model building to reconstruct the Dodo, a technique traditionally used specifically for extinct species. The model was created by Karl Kästner in 1949 who used basic information collected from other skeletons, observations and drawings to recreate the realistic model. The body was  created using clay and plaster whilst the feathers were a mixture of chicken, duck, sawn and ostrich feathers.

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Personally, my favourite set of displays explored the preparation of a Dickhornschaf: a Bighorned Sheep. The cases showed the full process from reconstruction and stuffing to design, make-up and display:

I think its really important for museums to be as open, transparent and educational in every aspect that we can. Opening up access through displays and interpretation enables visitors to gain a better understanding into museum practice and the activities involved in running the spaces they come to visit. When we visit museums I think it is usual to absorb what is on display without really thinking in depth about how displays have been curated, how taxidermy artefacts are preserved and the work that goes on behind the scenes. “Masterpieces of Taxidermy” really opens up the field of taxidermy and gives a world class insight into how natural history specimens are prepared for our learning and entertainment. The gallery is a real showstopper in this marvellous Natural History Museum.

My next blog post will explore some of my object highlights from the Museum so keep an eye out!

Until next time, happy museum musings!

Em xo

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📍Voice and Vote: Women’s Place in Parliament pt. 2

Hi all, happy Friday!

A few weeks back I shared a post about my BTS visit to Vote and Vote: Women’s Place in Parliament exhibition at Westminster Palace, London. It was really fascinating and for me, made a real change to the stereotypical displays that have been curated to celebrate the 100 years of the Representation of the People Act which gave some women the right to vote in the UK. Many of the exhibitions I have visited have focused on the ‘popular’ suffragettes like Emmeline Pankhurst and Emily Davidson; displaying the same medals, banners and badges time and again. Whilst Vote and Vote did acknowledge these women and exhibit some similar objects, the curators were blessed with having the Parliamentary Archives to work from meaning a different set of political activists, specialist objects and original stories could be showcased which I was very relieved about!

Favourite objects:

The Great Pilgrimage was one of the largest peaceful suffrage demonstrations, with 50,000 women attending the rally in Hyde Park, London. This map shows routes taken by ‘pilgrims’ travelling across the country to London.

fullsizeoutput_aafThe Women’s Suffrage Pilgrimage, July 1913. LSE Libray, 10/54/097.

Nancy Astor, Viscountess Astor was the first woman to sit as a Member of Parliament (MP) in the House of Commons. Astor chose this plain outfit, similar to a man’s suit, for the HOC so that she would be judged by what she said and not what she wore.

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Nancy Astor’s Parliamentary Suit, 1919. Wool cloth suit (jacket and skirt), silk blouse and matching hat. (On loan from Plymouth City Council, Museum Galleries Archive).

On 28th October 1908, suffragettes from the Women’s Freedom League (WFL) visited the Ladies’ Gallery whilst male MP’s were discussing women’s suffrage.  Muriel Matters and Helen Fox chained themselves to grilles. A third woman, Violet Tillard lowered the ‘proclamation’ banner through the grilles so it could be seen in the chamber. Male suffragettes threw leaflets form their gallery. Matters and Fox couldn’t easily be unchained so the grilles were removed with them still attached. Alongside the banner were a metal grille and bolt clippers that were related to protests that day. A purchase order for the bolt clipper’s stated “In 1908, a “Porter’s easy bolt clipper” was obtained through H.M Office of Works to cut the chains with which the suffragettes might secure themselves to portions of the building”.

Left: Proclamation Banner, 28th October 1908. The Women’s Freedom League ‘proclamation’ was written by WFL founder Teresa Billington Greig. Copies were pasted up all over London. This one was pasted onto cloth and mounted on sticks for use in the Ladies’ Gallery protest. Parliamentary Archives: HC/SA/SJ/3/1

Favourite suffragette stories:

The exhibition told stories about suffragettes that have often been left out of suffrage narratives, highlighting women that contributed majorly to the fight for the vote but didn’t have the forename Emily or surname Pankhurst!

  • Princess Sophia Alexandra Duleep Singh was one of several South Asian women who pioneered the cause of women’s rights in Britain. She played a major role in the Women’s Tax Resistance League, as well as being heavily involved in the Women’s Social and Political Union. Although Sophia’s primary focus as a British subject and goddaughter of Queen Victoria was women’s rights in England, she and her fellow suffragettes also promoted similar activities in the colonies. She was proud of her Indian heritage, but was not bound by allegiance to a single nation and sought to support the women’s cause in a number of countries.

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  • Paralysed from the waist down caused by contracting polio as a chid, Rosa May Billinghurst was a disabled suffragette who famously campaigned and protested in her hand tricycle; earning her the nickname ‘cripple suffragette’. She was involved in many of the protests lead by the WSPU and founded the Greenwich branch of the Party in 1910. As its first secretary she took part in the ‘Black Friday‘ demonstrations. Her disability did not hold her back, nor did it hold back the male police officers. They would often throw her out of her tricycle, leaving her on the ground, unable to get up. Throughout her activism, Rosa was sent to prison three times & force fed by prison guards like many other suffragettes.

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Favourite quotes:

I was so incredibly happy and inspired by this exhibition as it gave a refreshing insight into the suffrage movement; exposing hidden objects and stories that had been left out of many other displays. I left the exhibition feeling truly inspired knowing how much change can come from campaigning, protesting and fighting for what you believe in. I can openly say I would be a suffragist rather than a suffragette (I’m very scared about breaking the law or getting into trouble!) but this exhibition showed how both are necessary for change. Taking a stand, writing to MP’s, attending marches and vocalising your thoughts can support change. Nothing ever happens overnight, these women fought for decades for the first step but women’s continued fight went from no women > some women  > all women being allowed to vote in the UK. Women’s voice in Parliament has changed the way women can engage with politics, the decisions that are made in the House of Commons and the rights we have as an equal sex. I am forever grateful to the women who fought and continue to fight for change and equality in the UK and around the world and will aspire to be more involved in politics in the future. We women are a force to be reckoned with and we will not stop fighting for equal rights!

Keep fighting the good fight & showcasing women in exhibitions!

Happy Museum Musings,

Em xo

📍Voice and Vote: Women’s Place in Parliament, Westminster Hall

Hi all, happy Friday!

In light of the progressive movement in American politics this week regarding the historical milestones made by women in the midterm elections, I thought I would share an insight into the wonderful Voice and Vote: Women’s Place in Parliament exhibition I visited last month. 🗣🗳  When I left the British Museum earlier this year, I was kindly gifted membership to the Women’s Library as part of my leaving present (alongside tickets to see my idol, Stacey Dooley and an array of feminist goodies!). The Women’s Library LSE, based at London School of Economics, holds 500 archive collections and a significant museum collection of over 5000 objects, much of which dates from the late 19th century.

My first Women’s Library event was a trip to Westminster to visit the ‘Voice & VoteWomen’s Place in Parliament’ exhibition. The tour was lead by Mari Takayanagi, Joint Project Manager of Vote 100 and a fellow Women’s Library member. The major exhibition displayed at Westminster Hall was created to give visitors a better understanding of the campaign for votes for women in the UK and the representation of women in UK Parliament and politics.

The exhibition was split into 4 main sections: The Ventilator, The Cage, The Tomb and The Chamber. All 4 settings were significant in the ways that women could engage with and influence UK politics; from being secret observers in the 19th century to being active and present Member’s of Parliament in the present day.

  1. The Ventilator, 1818-1834:

The opening section of the exhibition introduced the octagonal structure known as The Ventilator which was originally designed to ventilate the Chamber in the House of Commons. 200 years ago, before it was acceptable for women to be actively involved in politics, a group of feisty, politically-minded middle class women found a secret attic space above the Ventilator and would clamber inside to listen to the debates going on below. This not only gave women a space to socialise but also the chance to listen to political discussions and gain an insight into policy-making like never before.

A partial recreation of the Ventilator was on display in the exhibition – visitors were invited to put their heads into the small window spaces and listen to reenactments of Parliamentary debates like the women of the 19th century would have done. 
  1. The Cage, 1834 – 1918:

In 1834, a large fire demolished the original Westminster building leading to a new Palace being built between 1840 – 1876. The new Palace of Westminster included a purpose-built ‘Ladies Gallery’ which meant that women could officially listen and watch debates in the Houses of Common rather than hiding in the Ventilator. The Ladies Gallery was nicknamed ‘The Cage’ because it had large, heavy metal grilles covering the windows, both restricting the women’s view and ensuring they didn’t ‘distract’ men in the Public Gallery. In the 20th century the space became known for protests by suffragettes campaigning for change and the metal grilles were eventually removed in 1917.

A reconstruction of the Ladies Gallery in the exhibition gave a sense of the rules, space and views that women would have experienced whilst listening to parliamentary debates from their newly designated area. The cream paneling represents where the heavy grilles would have been. 
  1. The Tomb, 1918 – 1963:

In 1919, Nancy Astor became the first female Member of Parliament to sit in the House of Commons. When she joined as a MP there were no spaces reserved solely for women except for the Ladies’ Members’ Room. During the 20th century, more women were elected into Parliament resulting in women from Conservative, Labour and Liberal parties sharing the small Members’ Room. The cramped space soon became known as ‘The Tomb’.

Left: Quote from Ellen Wilkinson, 1928. Right: Barbara CastleMargaret Thatcher and Shirley Williams
  1. The Chamber, 1963 – Present Day:

As women’s voices and voting rights in the UK have increased, so has their role in Parliament and there have now been 491 female Members of Parliament in Britain; all of which were displayed on a large celebration wall in the final part of the exhibition.

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Visitors were invited to watch videos and listen to oral histories, collected from The British Library, of current female MP’s talking about their political role and their continuing fights for equality. The space highlights both how far we’ve come in terms of female representation in Parliament and voting patterns versus how far we’ve still got to go (a third of UK women didn’t vote in the 2017 UK General Election!) The exhibition ended with a pledging station where visitors could reflect on their place in politics and decide how they could get more involved in UK Parliament in the future.

As usual, I will follow this post up with another blog highlighting my favourite objects from the exhibition so keep an eye out for fabulous feminist content related to Voice and Vote: Women’s Place in Parliament

Happy Museum Musings!

Em xo

 

📍Poster Girls: A century of art and design, London Transport Museum

Poster Girls: A century of Art and Design at the London Transport Museum celebrates a century of exceptional poster art created by women. The exhibition shines a light on the incredible contribution that female designers and artists made to the world of poster design, with over 150 colourful, fun and unique pieces of artwork on display.

As you would expect from an exhibition at the London Transport Museum, the majority of the posters on display were designed for use on the London Underground, with many of the artists commissioning pieces for London Transport and Transport for London.

Posters are displayed chronologically from 1910’s to the present day; with a focus on how each new era offered changing styles, approaches and designs which are reflected in the artworks. The display also focuses on the positive impact London Transport had in showcasing female talent in an industry that was, like many others, predominantly male.

Creative minds such as Ella Coates, Nancy Smith, “Herry” Perry and Dora Batty created bold, colourful, eye-catching posters to advertise the London Underground as quick and cheap transport choice. Many of the posters would market the Capital’s main attractions, like the ones below.

Foxgloves; Kew Gardens by Dora M Batty, 1924 (1983/4/1639), Country Joys from Camden Town Station by Herry Perry, 1930 (1983/4/2940), Bluebell time in Kew Gardens by Margaret Calkin James, 1931 (1983/4/9210), Travels in time on your doorstep by Clifford Ellis and Rosemary Ellis, 1937 (1983/4/4963) and Regents Park Zoo by Arnrid Banniza Johnston, 1930 (1983/4/3038) 

The exhibition continues downstairs; documenting posters from the 1950’s to the modern day. The first thing you see is a wall covered in miniature versions of underground posters which was truly sensational.

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As you look closer you can pick out posters marketing everything from London Zoo to Borough Market, Hampton Court to London Museums. Below are a few of my favourites:

Top left: Hampton Court by Hanna Weil, 1963 (1983/4/7458), Bottom left: London’s museums by Carol Barker, 1979 (1983/341), Right: We Londoners by Dorrit Dekk, 1961 (1983/4/7270)

Although there was a lull in female representation during the 1940’s-50’s (possibly due to World War II), in the 1980’s, London Transport ran 2 major campaigns to reignite the fire for women in the Poster design market. Art on the Underground and the Simply series was influenced a lot by women and they play a major role in poster art and design. My 3 favourite contemporary posters were: Simply East London by Tube and bus by Sarah McMenemy, 2000 (2000/14610), Borough Market by Ruth Hydes, 2010 (2017/444) and Winter fun – shopping by Anna Hymas, 2016 (2017/380)

Aside from the #Vote100 Suffragette displays that keep popping up across the UK to celebrate 100 since the Representation Act 1918 was passed, Poster Girls is the first exhibition I’ve been to that it is solely dedicated to the work, perspectives and successes of women. Isn’t that absurd?! I felt pretty overwhelmed walking around & taking notes knowing that everything I was seeing was created by a woman, every name I wrote down belonged to a woman.

I think the sector could learn a lot from the London Transport Museum in terms of how to create exhibitions focused on underrepresented groups in society. From writing more inclusive interpretation, doing more in-depth research into collections, looking at how exhibition content is developed, who/what is represented and ultimately, who at the top of the organisation, is making the decisions about what is exhibited…

Poster girls: A century of art and design, located in the Exterion Media Gallery, is on display until January 2019.

Happy Museum Musings!

Em xo

📍Altes Museum, Berlin pt.2

So, I promised you a second instalment of my visit to the Altes Museum and here it is! Aside from my star objects from the Numistmatics Collection (which I found surprisingly interesting!), there were lots of other fascinating objects housed in the oldest museum on MuseumInsel. These are some of my favourites!

Highlight objects:

  1. Cauldron attachments: Heads of Griffins, Samos, Greece, around 640-630 BC. Heraiom, acquired c.1914, Bronze.

2. Greek bronze helmets from 7th century BC. Greece, Italy, Egypt; acquired 1904-5. Bronze, 700-600 BC.

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3. Relief with Heroes and worshippers – Chrysapha/Sparta. Greece, acquired from the Sabouroff Collection. Marble, c. 540 BC. These reminded me of the Assyrian reliefs on display at my former workplace, the British Museum. Kings such as Ashurbanipal would have walls leading up to their thrones decorated with scenes of them overseeing construction work or participating in lion-hunts to showcase their power. The design and regal feel of these reminded me so much of those that will be on display for the next major exhibition at the British MuseumI am Ashurbanipal: king of the world, king of Assyria which is on display from 8 November 2018 – 24 February 2019.

4. Gold jewellery from Tarentum, Italy. The find consisting of gold hairnet, necklaces, armlet in the shape of snakes – (very Taylor Swift-esque 🐍), earrings and a finger ring showcase the complete set of jewellery of a rich Tarentine woman. They were most probably left as grave goods upon her death in the late 3rd century BC.

Gold hairnet: This exquisite gold hairnet was part of the gold haul and has an old, reused medallion with the head of Medusa as the centre piece. Found c.1900 in Tarentum, Italy. Acquired in 1980. Made and used in 230-210 BC.

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5. Jewellery from the Geometric Period:

Fragile golden bands with depictions of stencilled figurative patterns were most likely places around the heads of the deceased. Because the markings are difficult to see with the naked eye, the museum have scanned and recreated the stencilled bands to make the decoration clearer for visitors to get a better look at the intricacy. This simple but effective touch really helped the objects to stand out and be more accessible.

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6. Scythian Gold body ornaments and mirror. The largest Scythian jewellery ensemble outside the countries of origin.

The final special exhibition, Fleish (Flesh/Meat) was also very endearing. Themes such as Rost/Food, Kult/Cult and Körper/Body explores human relationship with meat and how it sits in a precarious space between life and death. The exhibition poses interesting questions about the conflicts of meat in society, how it it seen to some as repulsive but others as nutrition and ultimately how we as humans think about it in the modern day.

This was by far one of the most exquisite museums I’ve ever visited. The space was used so well and it didn’t feel overly repetitive as the statues, gold, numismatics, grave goods were distributed throughout the galleries rather than in one space. I spent hours exploring this museum and would recommend you make the time to do so too if you’re visiting beautiful Berlin 🏛🇩🇪

Happy museum musings!

Em xo

Tony Vaccaro: From Shadow to Light📍Getty Images Gallery, London

Last week I was exploring London and stumbled across this little gem whilst walking in the autumnal sunshine. The Getty Images Gallery is London’s largest photographic archive, holds one of the greatest collections of photos in the world. For context, Getty Images, the head US company founded in 1995 by Mark Getty and Jonathan Klein, has a collection of 80 million photographs and more than 50,000 hours of film stock.

The current exhibition on display at the London gallery is Tony Vaccaro: From Shadow to LightThis is Vaccaro’s first exhibition in the UK in over half a century and includes photographs taken during his time serving in World War II, living in post-war Europe alongside those he took of celebrities, artists and creators for global media.

Born Michelantonio Celestino Onofrio Vaccaro in Pennsylvania, December 1922, “Tony” Vacarro, is an Italian-American photographer who is well-known for his photographs taken during the Second World War when he served in the US Army. Against orders from army officials, he smuggled his beloved camera into battle. He would strategically position his camera lens through a torn button hole on his jacket to take images. He would also salute with one hand whilst secretly pressing press the shutter with the other to capture an image!

During ‘down time’, Vaccaro would take photographs of his fellow Infantry members which led to numerous reprimands but after an Army Major expressed an interest in his work, Tony was allowed to continue with his photography; under one condition – gun first, camera second. During this time, he produced almost 8,000 photos and went to extreme lengths to produce his images stating: “When I was not on a night mission, I processed my films in four army helmets and hung the wet negatives from tree branches to dry.” Many of his photos were destroyed or seized by authorities so only 25% of them still survive.

Unfortunately the lighting in the exhibition meant that there were reflections on all glass surfaces so the photographs I took (below) aren’t very good but I have found the best online links to the photographs which are included in the photo caption:

Firing Line in the Hurtgen Forest, Germany, 1945

Upon being honourably discharged from his position in 1945, Tony decided to stay in Europe rather than move back home to the US to begin a careers a professional photographer. During this time, he captured life in post-war Europe; covering issues across Germany and Western Europe.

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Kiss of Liberation, St. Briac Sur Mer, France 1944 – “Sargeant Gene Costanzo kneels to kiss a little girl during spontaneous celebrations in the main square of the town of St. Briac, France, August 14, 1944.” – Tony Vaccaro

With post-war America came a new age of popular magazines and celebrity; which Vaccaro took full advantage of. He travelled the world for 30 years, taking some of the most recognisable photographs of the 20th century; working with public figures from Sophia Loren and Pablo Picasso to Georgia O’Keefe and Hubert de Givenchy.

Top left: Picasso, Mougins, France, 1966. Bottom left: Marimekko Umbrella, (Tony ended up marrying the model at the bottom of this image)
Top right: Georgia O’Keefe with Cheese, New Mexico, 1960, Bottom right: Sophia Loren, actress, New York City, NY 1959.

The exhibition was curated by Shawn Waldron, a Curator at Getty Images, who worked alongside Tony Vaccaro’s studio to create this wonderful exhibition which showcases some of the finest photography I’ve ever seen. The humility and connection Vaccaro captures in his images is really special and his personal relationship with subjects is very apparent. The exhibition has just been extended for another month so you can catch it until 28th October. I’d recommend you make a detour if you’re in Central London before it closes.

Happy Museum Musings.

Em xo

Deutsches Historisches Museum, Berlin

The next stop on my Museum Tour was Berlin, Germany 🇩🇪 I had heard so many great things so my expectations were very high. And oh my were they exceeded! If you haven’t had the chance to visit, put it on your bucket list RIGHT NOW! 🗒

I’ll write another blog post about why I am now obsessed with Berlin so much but for now here’s a little insight into the Deutsches Historisches Museum. The Museums main building is housed in Berlin’s former, Zeughaus (armoury), whilst the second section, added between 1998-2003 was designed by I.M Pei, the same man who designed iconic pyramid for The Louvre, Paris.

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You’re actually not allowed to take photographs of the exhibitions which was very frustrating but what I want to focus on is the museums amazing accessibility features – something that many museums could learn from. I’ll be focusing on the Museum’s accessibility in their current major exhibition “Europa und das meer” (Europe and the Sea) 🌊

Around the whole exhibition space there are white raised, textured lines along the floor. As I worked my way around the space I realised they were to assist visitors who are visually impaired with navigating their way around using the raised pathways. These pathways lead you around the exhibition in a logical order and also merge into a square of dots (like you find on pavements as you’re coming up to a road or crossing) symbolising that an audio-visual station was ahead.

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At these stations there are 3 large panels.

Panel 1:

The first panel has text written in ‘academic speak’ using technical wording and “jargon”. This interpretation is usually written by specialist Curators who have an in-depth knowledge of a subject and is created to engage other specialists and visitors with a comprehensive subject knowledge. This type of text can be very overwhelming and I often find myself reading the first couple of lines and feeling well out of my depth so moving on without learning much. This is where panel 2 comes in…

Panel 2:

A simpler text panel written in what is referred to as “Simple German”. Smaller words, less text, same impact. This is such a brilliant addition to the interpretation and having worked with a range of audiences (people with Special Needs, visual impairments, English as an Additional Language etc) I understand many of the access issues that too much text or jargon words can have. There are also many other visitors that would benefit from this type of text panel: including those with Dyslexia, younger visitors, those with limited knowledge and people who only want a basic understanding of a subject.

Underneath this text was a Braille version of the wording above as well as the audio loop that played the information on the guide available from the exhibition desk.

Panel 3:

The third panels at each stations all had large maps so visitors could visualise where in Europe was being discussed alongside video interpretation being shown in German Sign Language.

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Also, although the exhibition is displayed across two floors, all museum entrances are wheelchair accessible. I have been in museums (and actually worked in one) where if you couldn’t use the stairs you couldn’t access the whole building. Now I know for many institutions this is due to Grade Listings of buildings and the guidelines stopping lifts being added but it does rather spoil the vi and we as a sector should be working better to ensure access is a priority. Even having a video downstairs doing a tour of the upstairs rooms/exhibitions or having interactive collections online for visitors to view at their leisure would enhance the experience and ensure access issues don’t stop certain groups being excluded.

From a personal perspective, museums can often feel very exclusive, with their text, subjects and spaces which reinforces this ‘us’ vs ‘them’ notion. If the sector truly wants to be more accessible and inclusive, I think that following the steps of the Deutsches Historisches Museum would be a good way to go! Improving access, be it physical, representational or educational is something that I think is of the highest priority for the sector to become more open to the audiences is should be serving.

Top marks to Deutsches Historiches Museum 💯

Em xo