Unearthing Our Past: Engaging with Diversity at the Museum of London by Raminder Kaur
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(Consultancy for Reassessing What we Collect phase II)(1)
(a) Thinking across Diversity
(b) Issues for Diversity
(c) Liquid History and Planetary Consciousness
(a) Capital Diversity
(a) Future Developments
(b) A Summary of Diversity Practice
The past refuses to stay still even as it enters our present and colours our future. It is an unstable category which, nevertheless, has been stilled by material evidence, scholarly research, curatorial expertise, and ideologies, wittingly or unwittingly, to do with the representations of culture, race and nation.
In its unearthing of peoples’ lives, however, there remain endless stories which are concealed owing to the forgetfulness of conventional wisdom, or are ignored because they are deemed of little interest to mainstream society.
This is the scenario which has characterised the stories of marginalised and oppressed people in Britain. Classically, this set of concerns was applied to racial and ethnic minorities (Black and Minority Ethnic), women and the working classes. From the late twentieth century, such concerns have been voiced by a whole raft of other diverse groups also decrying the prejudices and maltreatment that they have been subjected to by mainstream currents in society.
As is mapped out by Lola Young’s essay, Our Lives, Our Histories, Our Collections, diversity today does not just stop at race and ethnicity. This complex term has come to incorporate a range of multiple identities based on race/ethnicity, faith, gender, sexual orientation, age, intellectual and physical ability, health status and educational and social backgrounds.
In fact, the list may well be endless, with the danger being that the term may be on the verge of becoming meaningless and losing its political moorings. But this is not to suggest that we ‘throw out the baby out with the bath water’ for that would also invalidate the possibility of achieving democratic representations throughout all areas of life.
This essay has three main aims:
- The priority is not just to think and talk about diversity, but to actually implement it in an enlightened, sensitive and imaginative manner across all periods. The preceding issues need to be packaged in such a way that they can enable strategies of inclusive representation and accountability in the museum context.
We need to consider how these abstract ideas become realised, represented, interpreted and made relevant to diverse communities with the use of its collections. The collections could include archaeological finds, artefacts, prints and paintings, photography, costumes, oral records and audio-visual media, all of which have a unique role in providing us with glimpses into London’s illustrious history.
- We need to consider ways of moving away from taxonomic views on diversity where everything is fitted into neat boxes. Inclusion requires integrative and dynamic frameworks for collecting and representing. The challenge is to not just celebrate and empower difference, but also to celebrate and empower difference within difference – that is, consider the areas where ethnic/racial identities are cross-cut with diverse sexuality and disability and other social identities.
We need to recognise that identities to do with diversity are just one facet of people’s lives, and people will have a range of sometimes very oppositional opinion within any designated community.
- We will consider an overview of the work conducted by the Museum of London (MoL) in the field of diversity with a view to identifying possible areas of further development.
The essay is divided into three sections:
- an overview of the debate about diversity as it applies to museums;
- the collections and exhibitions at the Museum of London relevant to this subject;
- generic recommendations for building upon this work in museums.
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