Saturday, 12 March 2011

Experience of Museums in Northern Ireland

The Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA) and DCAL have produced a report on Experience of Museums in Northern Ireland: Findings from the Continuous Household Survey 2009-2010
  • 32% of all respondents said that they had visited a museum in the previous 12 months.
  • The Ulster Folk & Transport Museum was the most popular museum visited (17%) followed by W5 (8%), Ulster American Folk Park (8%) and Ulster Museum (8%).  [I am not sure what impact the closure and reopening of the Ulster Museum had on these figures.]
  • The most frequently cited factor that would encourage respondents to visit museums more often was 'Exhibition/display of a subject I am interested in' (34%). 
This last figure is interesting and seems to confirm the point I have made about the importance of museums reflecting the diversity of our society.  As an example I referred to the depiction of fraternal societies such as the Orange Order and the Ancient Order of Hibernians within the Ulster history section of the Ulster Museum.  People want to see their history and culture reflected in our museums, but especially in our national museums.

Recently we published a Museums Policy for Northern Ireland.  This is the first time we have ever had a policy and it includes an important section on the role of museums in building a 'shared and better future'.  This section includes a reference to cultural rights which is an emerging and increasingly important aspect of human rights.


  1. I think you'll find that right thinking people were aghast at you attempting to place so called 'creationism' into museums. The OO or AOH had little to do with the upset and horror you caused.

  2. So anyone who has a different view on the origin of the universe and the origin of life is not 'right thinking'. You are a very presumptuous individual.

    As regards the lack of representation in the Ulster Museum for the Orange Order and the Ancient Order of Hibernians, you say it had 'little to do with the upset and horror you caused'. That means it had something to do with this alleged 'upset and horror'. Do you not think that the Orange Order and the Ancient Order of Hibernians have both played a significant role in the history of Ulster and Ireland? Moreover do you not think that their influence was as great as that of organisations which existed for a few years but have disappeared long ago, such as the Volunteers and the United Irishmen? These short-lived organisations are represented very well in the Ulster Museum and that highlights the poor treatment of these other organisations. Indeed the single information board for the Orange Order was added at the very end as an afterthought. Finally, how can you represent the Orange Order or the AOH without the inclusion of artefacts? Museums are based on artefacts and you can't have a museum without them, yet the Ulster Museum has only a display board and not a single artefact pertaining to the Orange Order or the AOH. Sorry, they do have them, but they are in the storeroom.

  3. Personally I would welcome and would go to see any exhibitions in the Ulster Museum of the OO and AOH, as they have indeed played a significant role in the history of Ireland and Northern Ireland. The OO would obviously be more interesting as they have more members and have the clearest connection to events going back to the 17th century. I think artefacts of such organisations would be very interesting and would undoubtedly be a valuable tourist attraction.

    However creationism is a religious belief, and I think it highly inappropriate for religious beliefs to be displayed in a national museum. Furthermore creationism goes against 300 years of scientific facts in areas such as Biology, Geology and Physics (in fact every branch of science) and as such it would be horrific to portray anything in a museum that is not support by centuries of science, as actuality. Museums are the home of science and fact and not of religion, unless of course creationism was being displayed as a case study of some branch of science, such as psychology or sociology. I don’t think A level examiners’ would mark correct every answer in a Physics or Mathematics exam if it simply carried the sentence ‘this is my belief and is equally correct’ after every response. Someone who discounts fact is indeed ‘wrong thinking’, quite literally. Presumption, opinion, and point of view etc. have nothing to do with such a fundamental observation.

  4. I am glad we are agreed on the value of including artefacts relating to the Orange Order in the Ulster Museum. You do not seem as interested in the AOH but in the late 19th and early 20th century the AOH was a very powerful influence in Nationalist politics. Joe Devlin made it his power base in Ulster. It is also interesting to compare and contrast the two organisations and see both the differences and the similarities.
    'It would be horrific to portray anything in a museum that is not supported by centuries of science.' In fact down through the centuries the views of scientists have changed many times and continue to do so. I studied physics at university and was a science teacher for some years, albeit quite a few years ago. However I have kept my school text books, some of my university books and some of the text books I used as a teacher. There are things in there that we were taught forty years ago and which are now rejected by scientists.
    That is why so much of your approach and thinking is wrong. Scientists carry out experiments and then interpret the results but over time the interpretation may change. Indeed at any one time different scientists may look at the same information and reach different conclusions.
    Some years ago a professor at Oxford University challenged the certainty that surrounds radiocarbon dating because of the assumptions on which the calculations were based. Indeed I still have the newspaper article he wrote somewhere at home. There was the caution of a true scientist.

  5. "The most frequently cited factor that would encourage respondents to visit museums more often was 'Exhibition/display of a subject I am interested in' (34%).

    This last figure is interesting and seems to confirm the point I have made about the importance of museums reflecting the diversity of our society. As an example I referred to the depiction of fraternal societies such as the Orange Order and the Ancient Order of Hibernians within the Ulster history section of the Ulster Museum. People want to see their history and culture reflected in our museums, but especially in our national museums.

    Nelson, do people really go to the UM for the sole purpose of having their culture reinforced through OO/ AOH exhibitions? Nowhere in the quote from NISRA do they make the link between the 34% wanting to see an exhibition they're interested in.... and that same exhibition being something you feel important, namely the OO/AOH. People have interests outside the naval gazing we call Ulster History, they can get their dose of ideological reinforcement on the news, at the OO/AOH halls they attend, and various other government funded bodies that plough money into culture sector in the name of equality...

  6. The survey confirms that people want to see things they are interested in. It established that general connection.

    As regards the subject area I mentioned, which is fraternal organisations, there are clearly many people who are interested in them. You have only to consider the fact that tens of thousands of people are members of these organisations and that much larger numbers take part in or watch their annual parades.

    Over the years I have visited museums in many countries and it is generally accepted that when there are exhibitions in which people are interested the attendance figures increase.

    For example, last year I visited a museum in North Carolina and they mentioned that exhibitions about pirates are especially popular.

    You describe the study of Ulster history as navel gazing but in fact regional history is already part of the museum and it is, of course, the Ulster Museum. There is Ulster history in the museum but is it inclusive and comprehensive?

  7. I don't think museums can ever really be fully comprehensive in their subject matter, to the degree that those who have an interest in a field would like. It is about editorial choices and making history relevant and digestible, giving people and perhaps more especially children, a trigger to spark their interest which they can then go on and develop.

    Indeed, many people are members of these organisations, but by the same token, many, many more are not. I would rather see the pirate exhibition you mention and would bring my kids along to see that, rather than a OO/ AOH exhibition, and I feel that something like pirates cuts across divides and is of interest to a wider range of people than trying to pander to specific groups. The UFTM does history in a non-divisive way and I'd be a big fan of their approach. W5 had a dino exhibition a few years ago and when i was there it was packed with people from all over Ireland and across the water... that sort of thing would resonate more widely across our communities and encompass our growing multicultural community.

    More and more people are seeking to keep their children from labelling themselves one thing or other, having seen how our ideologies have been manipulated in the past for negative ends, and I would argue that if the museum sector is about getting the people of Northern Ireland into these centres, and getting tourists up from ROI, we need a broader brush stroke. The majority in the north, the people across the water, and ROI day trippers are not interested in our arguments... our arguments and history being one of the biggest turn-offs to potential visitors.

    Thanks for your time in responding.

  8. Visitors like to see regional culture when they visit a regional museum.

    I have not proposed an OO/AOH exhibition, merely that they be reflected in the context of the main Ulster history section.

    However there was an excellent exhibition some years ago in the UFTM entitled 'The Brotherhoods of Ireland', which explored many of the fraternal societies, including Friendly Societies, temperance societies, Protestant societies, Roman Catholic societies and Masonic and pseudo-Masonic societies. It was valuable in comparing and contrasting these organisations and thereby contributing to a better understanding of them.

    As regards what visitors want to see, there is so-called 'troubles tourism', and the peace lines and murals attracts large numbers of visitors every year.

    Finally. are you suggesting on the basis of your last paragraph, that the section on The Troubles in the museum should be removed?

  9. No, not removed. But it's not the be all and end-all of the UM, not that I'm suggesting that you think it is, but once you've been through it, there's no need to return.

    As for Troubles Tourism, well it is here and is exploited but I know as someone who returned here after living for 10 years outside NI, that my friends find it hard to be persuaded to visit NI, instead preferring to meet up elsewhere. It should undoubtedly form a facet of our tourist strategy but we in NI can become very bogged down in our own history and take our eye off the ball in terms of a fluid, evolving, more encompassing tourist strategy, instead focusing on keeping narrow interest groups happy at the expense of the greater good. We have some great, modern attractions that are non-NI specific and attract a diverse range of visitors. W5 & Exploris immediately spring to mind, with W5 in particular standing up well against similar attractions i've visited in England and mainland europe.

    I'm not suggesting removing history in some sort of year zero strategy, or pulling down victorian bandstands because they symbolise British oppression, as was an argument in Drogheda i think! Just that we need to look a bit further than our own wants and being caught up in portraying our respective cultures, and move towards a unified, modern forward looking strategy. The UM's revamp has been a decent start, and the Causeway centre should be a positive also.

  10. You refer to things that are non-NI specific but the regional character and colour of a place is one of the things that attracts visitors.

  11. So long as we never lump science in with culture, I'm open to and welcome any displays of artifacts and information. I don't wish the point to be labored, but creationism/intelligent design has no place in a science exhibit.