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Manchester Museum – review

March 27, 2015

Warning – this post is picture heavy so may take a while to load.

Welcome to the first, and quite possibly the only*, entry in a series which, with my usual lack of inventiveness, I’ve decided to call Museum Review. I had thought about calling it Museum of the Month, MuOM for short? Maybe not. It doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, does it? I don’t think acronyms are my forté. However, given my record on Member of the Month I think we’ll leave it as a one off or occasional event (organisation isn’t my forté either, there are days when I wonder what my forté actually is**).

Anyway, Manchester Museum. It’s a Victorian neo-Gothic building

which isn’t to everyone’s taste, but it cheers me up every time I walk down Oxford Road. Look! There’s a giant spider crab in the window!

giant spider crab! [url=http://www.zoochat.com/207/japanese-spider-crab-manchester-museum-29-196013][img]http://photos.zoochat.com/thumb/lakeland_wildlife_mcr_museum_082-133124.jpg[/img][/url]

Giant Spider Crab! [url=http://www.zoochat.com/207/japanese-spider-crab-manchester-museum-29-196013][img]http://photos.zoochat.com/thumb/lakeland_wildlife_mcr_museum_082-133124.jpg[/img][/url]

Obviously this predisposes me in its favour, but it has many other fine features; they hold regular children’s events and  we still have some pom-pom spiders from a craft activity at one of their beast and bug days. As you come up the stairs the first thing you see is an elephant skeleton – he’s called Maharajah – and as you know I’m a sucker for a skeleton with a nickname (and they have a T.rex called Stan). They’ve also found a cunning way of recycling their large collection of stuffed animals – in the unironically named ‘Living Worlds’ gallery. This gallery allegedly ‘explores the connections between all living things, including us, and shows how we can all shape the future by the choices we make’. Which is a worthy sentiment, but, it’s a gallery full of dead animals

Dead Things https://newlightmanchester.files.wordpress.com/2011/07/gallery11.jpg

Dead Things in glass cases in the ‘Living Worlds’ gallery
https://newlightmanchester.files.wordpress.com/2011/07/gallery11.jpg

Even more bizarrely, but less taxidermically, they have an entire case filled with beautiful origami cranes in this gallery

And, to be fair, they have live animals too in the Vivarium.

Frogs live here, supposedly. http://frogblogmanchester.com/2014/09/

Frogs live here, supposedly, we’ve never managed to see them.
http://frogblogmanchester.com/2014/09/

It also has an excellent, if small – just 3 rooms – archaeology section. The majority of the collection is of Egyptian artefacts largely collected in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Jesse Haworth, a Manchester textile manufacturer, subsidised many of Petrie’s excavations, largely funded the Egyptology gallery  (extensively remodelled in 2012) and bequeathed his Egyptology collection.

This photo from the 1912 opening shows the gallery’s major benefactor Jesse Haworth (standing in the picture), archaeologist William Flinders Petrie (seated third from right), the museum’s first curator William Boyd Dawkins (first on right), and anatomist Grafton Elliot Smith. This photo from the 1912 opening shows the gallery’s major benefactor Jesse Haworth (standing in the picture), archaeologist William Flinders Petrie (seated third from right), the museum’s first curator William Boyd Dawkins (first on right), and anatomist Grafton Elliot Smith. https://egyptmanchester.wordpress.com/category/egypt-gallery-redevelopment/

1912 opening – Jesse Haworth (standing in the picture), archaeologist William Flinders Petrie (seated third from right), the museum’s first curator William Boyd Dawkins (first on right), and anatomist Grafton Elliot Smith. Copyright text and image
https://egyptmanchester.wordpress.com/category/egypt-gallery-redevelopment/

It is an impressive collection (despite the prosaic solution to the ‘moving statue mystery‘ story) and beautifully displayed.

Egyptian Worlds Gallery

Egyptian Worlds Gallery

As is the ‘Exploring Objects’ Gallery which displays dense concentrations of common museum objects – glass, lamps, pots and shabti figures

But, it’s the ‘Discovering Archaeology’ Gallery which makes the Manchester Museum stand out. WP_20150324_12_31_35_Pro

The display cases range from the mundane

Pots and more pots!

Pots and more pots!

To the dramatic

Heads!

Heads!

But this is more than just an average display of archaeology. This gallery – the first of the archaeology galleries – not only explains what archaeology is, but also sets it in its historical and contemporary context. So there are images of, and information about, Thomas Barritt, William Boyd Dawkins, Flinders Petrie, Barri Jones, Robert Connolly and Ian Panter alongside a film featuring Chantal Conneller, Obviously visitors don’t have to read the prominently displayed texts or listen to the voices, but they do have to pass through this initial, explanatory, gallery. And, if they do choose to read the narratives, there’s a wealth of information about how the reasons for collecting information have changed over time

Confessions of a Tomb Robber - photo by me. Text copyright The Manchester Museum.

Confessions of a Tomb Robber – photo by me. Text copyright The Manchester Museum.

and how archaeology itself has changed over time:

Thomas Barritt - photo by me. Text and image copyright The Manchester Museum

Thomas Barritt – photo by me. Text and image copyright The Manchester Museum

This isn’t confined to images that can be ignored, it’s spelt out on the walls

Wall text The Museum of Manchester

Wall text The Museum of Manchester

To prove this isn’t just words, they also have a film by Alan Garner (one of my absolute favourite writers when I was young!) and artefacts and information about the community Alderley Edge Landscape Project.

I can’t think of another museum display that says so much about the practice of archaeology and its changing nature. My only criticism is that I would have liked it if the display cases reflected the different periods, so there was a display case of the sort of material a tomb robber would have found, another with Thomas Barritt’s discoveries etc. However, this is minor carping, it really is an excellent display. If you get the chance, go to Manchester and visit the museum (but go to the Whitworth for lunch!)

Have a great weekend

Julia

* I’m aware that given the intense local rivalry I will have to visit and review Liverpool University’s Garstang Museum of Archaeology and quite possibly the Victoria Gallery & Museum – so there will be one more museum review at least.

** The answer seems to be baking – pursuance and consumption, so far this week I’ve made shortbread and scones and I need to produce an edible Lego cake for Sunday.

 

 

 

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Kate Sheppard permalink
    March 29, 2015 5:44 pm

    Reblogged this on Adventures in History and Archaeology and commented:
    HARN’s Julia Roberts has reviewed one of my favorite museums.

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  1. Looking back, looking ahead | HARN Weblog

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