A 15 Minute Trip Around the World via the Internet

Who doesn't enjoy some good historical wordplay? Image from Pinterest.

Who doesn’t enjoy some good historical wordplay? Image from Pinterest.

Weekly Web Links:

Historical Book Review for the Week:

The Secret Museum by Molly Oldfield


The Secret Museum

On a similar thread to the book review from two weeks ago (Neil MacGregor’s A History of the World in 100 Objects), this is a great book which covers a number of interesting historical objects in easy, quick-to-read, sections that make this a great read to have on to go alongside other books.

This particular book is unique in that it focuses on those items that museums have in storage on location, but which are deemed too fragile to actually be put on display.  Typically, these types of items are only seen by professionals (historians, academics, archaeologists, scientists, and the like) who need access to the item in order to contribute to their research or publication.  As a researcher for QI (a fabulous British TV show-everyone should watch it) the author was able to head into these secret store rooms and come into contact with a number of remarkable items that are kept away from public eyes.

Included in this book are a wide variety of items such as:

  • an original Gutenberg bible
  • Nabokov’s  collection of butterfly penises (and you thought you knew people with strange hobbies…)
  • a piece of Newton’s apple tree
  • an original draft of ‘Auld Lang Syne’
  • a blue whale
  • Harrison Schmitt’s Space Suit
  • and, my personal favorite, Van Gogh’s Sketchbooks

Now, I have to admit that this book does bring up one small issue that I am, personally, conflicted on.  For me, the whole point of historical items and artifacts (and, to an extent, museums) is to engage, introduce, and educate the public on the past.  Human history is something that I firmly believe everyone should have at least a basic grasp and understanding of; at the risk of going cliched, if we don’t know or understand the past then we won’t learn from it and moving forward becomes a crap chute rather than an intentional progression. Now I absolutely understand that these items are incredibly fragile and that storing them in this way, rather than displaying them, allows them to survive for that much longer which gives the academics and the scholars of the world further time to study and learn from them.  I also get that they then publish their papers and reports on these items which the public is certainly able to read if they are so inclined.  But, first of all these articles are often written for other academics, at a level which makes them inaccessible to the general public and secondly, no matter how remarkable a wordsmith the writer may be, a written report will rarely (I would argue never) have the same impact as the actual sight of these objects.

In this way, through its inclusion of pictures and a lack of scholarly lingo, Molly Oldfield has brought these unseen items as close to the public as it is currently possible to do so.


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