Why You Should Visit Museums

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A-level History By: Please log in to see tutor details
Subject: History » A-level History
Last updated: 29/08/2017
Tags: a level history, gcse history

Many people struggle to make sense of the past from books and documents. This is a big problem for budding historians as History in schools and colleges is mostly historiography: that is, studying what has been written about what happened rather than what happened. Presented in this way, arguments and debates can seem dry and difficult to understand, events flat and uninteresting. 

In museums, by contrast, the past is presented through images and objects that can be easier to understand and appreciate. Documents here are less important and the focus is usually on the narrative: museums are now designed to be interactive, immersive and emotionally engaging. If you're based in or near London, the following are particularly useful for understanding themes and topic areas you may be studying. and, although you may have to pay for special/temporary exhibitions, all of them have free entry. 

The Imperial War Museum (nearest tube: Waterloo/Lambeth North)
Documenting Britain's history of twentieth-century conflict, the IWM was reopened in 2014 after a major refurbishment. Its galleries on the First World War and its aftermath are outstanding, as is the exhibition on the Holocaust, a central topic for History courses at KS3, GCSE and A-Level. Its bookshops are also well-stocked, meaning you may be able to find something to read that is more accessible and interesting than your textbook.

The Victoria and Albert Museum (nearest tube: South Kensington)
The V&A is known for its holdings of art and textiles (themselves potentially inspiring for those doing Art or Textiles courses) but also has a lot of historical material, particularly concerning India and Pakistan.

The National Maritime Museum (nearest tube: Cutty Sark for Maritime Greenwich (DLR))
For many themes on the history of British Imperialism, including the Slave Trade (and its abolition) and the early days of the Raj in India, the NMM is engaging and clear, with a vast range of well-designed and interesting displays. 

The British Museum (nearest tube: Holborn/Tottenham Court Road)
Packed with objects from across the world, the British Museum is an essential visit for those studying Classical/Ancient History (many Greek, Roman and Egyptian artefacts), Medieval and Renaissance History and even has galleries going up to the present day. Its temporary exhibitions are often equally brilliant: recent ones have looked at twentieth-century America and South Africa. 

The National Portrait Gallery (nearest tube: Charing Cross)
Although technically a gallery rather than a museum, the NPG is home to many iconic images from your textbooks, from Elizabeth I to Lawrence of Arabia. If you're struggling to understand a particular person, look them in the eye!

Much of the problem in studying history is in making it real. These museums (and many, many others) offer a new way of looking at the subject which goes well beyond a textbook or even a TV programme. Get visiting!

Dr Jaime Ashworth University History Tutor (North West London)

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