Why We Need Museums

I’ve written before that I’m not really concerned about bookshops closing, but I do care when libraries close. In a similar vein, I am a great fan of museums. I wrote to my local council recently to express my concern at some of their budget proposals, which I believe could put some of the local museums at risk.

A good museum gives visitors a link to the past in a way that nothing else can. The featured photograph for this post is of my daughter (then just over a year old) next to a WWII baby gas mask at the Potteries Museum & Art Gallery in Stoke-on-Trent. I’d seen gas masks like that before, but seeing my daughter with it was a shock. I couldn’t help imagining how she’d react if I had to put her in it, and it wasn’t pleasant. Just seventy years ago, parents lived with the very real fear that they’d have to use those things.

Lifting a car at MOSI
My son (then 5) lifting a car at the Science and Industry Museum

My six-year old son likes history (as he put it once: “I love learning about the past. It’s so weird“), and I suspect that’s largely because we’ve visited museums with him. He and I have learned a great deal from them, and we’ve had a lot of fun doing so. At the Science and Industry Museum in Manchester, we saw working Victorian machinery. Young children like my son were employed to work underneath the clattering machines, clearing away the cotton. I’m very grateful that he is able to go to school instead of having to work under one of those machines.

On board U3
Cramped conditions on submarine U3

My wife and I were able to go on board a WWII submarine, the U3, at a museum in Sweden. Squeezing through the watertight doors gave us a whole new understanding of just how cramped they were. I’ve been on board HMS Victory and HMS Warrior, and got some idea of the living conditions for officers and men on both ships.

I’m a great believer in the idea that we should learn from the mistakes of the past. I love books, but museums offer the chance to understand the past in a way that nothing else can. That’s worth a great deal, and so they should be cherished and protected. Society would be much poorer if we lost our museums.