Lindow Manchester


Review of Lindow Man Exhibition

Several months after the opening, a review of Lindow Man A Bog Body Mystery has appeared in this month’s (July) Museums Journal. Written by Stuart Burch, who is a lecturer in museum studies at Nottingham Trent University, the review is perceptive, thoughtful and fair in its criticism. The reviewer picks up on the fact that human remains are a subject of quite intense debate in museums at the moment and says it is ‘to the Manchester Museum’s enormous credit that it has sought to tackle these issues whilst stressing there are no “right” answers… it is impossible to accuse this exhibition of being simplistic or shallow. It manages to convey intellectualy challenging information and balances often contradictory interpretations’.

Stuart notes that much of the information is tucked away in folders or sound booths and worries that some visitors might leave thinking there was nothing to see. He suggests placing a visitor assistant at the entrance to the exhibition to help visitors. In fact this is one of the things that we looked at recently when we evaluated the exhibition and proposed some improvements. One of them was to make sure our Visitor Services Assistants engaged with visitors more directly about the exhibition, and to explain why it was presented in this way.

Another planned improvement is to re-write and re-position the introduction to the exhibition, again to help visitors orient themselves. The reviewer says this isn’t a perfect exhibition – though he says he thinks it is excellent – but then there is no such thing as a perfect exhibition. All are of their time, representing the pre-occupations of the moment, contingent and not definitive (is that perhaps why some of our visitors have struggled with the exhibition, because they expect museums to tell them objective facts?.

Reading out a selection of comments from the review to colleagues at the diary meeting last Wednesday I felt a real sense of pride that another museum professional had understood what we were about. Read the full interview in the Museums Journal for July (pages 50-51). If you are a member you can access the review electronically at this address – http://www.museumsassociation.org/ma/7758.

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4 Comments so far
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I have no idea what the mission statement of your museum is, but I’m quite sure it is not to satisfy yourselves and others who work in the museum sector. Given that you use large amounts of publicly funded money, and the public not only expect but also, more importantly, appear to enjoy objective facts and the vast majority of visitors envisage museums as a didactic experience, shouldn’t you at least satisfy this demand? You seem to be under the misapprehension that the Lindow Man
exhibition is challenging visitors when it is in fact irritating them. The Museums Journal review fails completely to mention the fact that very few people like it or indeed gain anything from it.

Comment by Aaron Hill

We worked with a consultation group which included archaeologists, curators, pagans, an elected member of MCC, members of local societies & members of the public. The approach, and, to an extent, the way the exhibition was put together, reflects the consultees’ wishes that we explore different interpretations of LM and that we treat him respectfully. Although we never expected it to please everyone, the exhibition concept, was carefully thought through and has very clear learning outcomes in mind.

How LM is interpreted lies at the heart of the exhibition and we would argue that actually there are few “objective facts” about him. The often quoted triple death theory appears to be based on quite shaky evidence – the garrote has been interpreted as a necklace; the gash to the throat may have happened at a much later date. Even his dating has been revised to put him in the early Roman period. How you look at Lindow Man depends on your background, interests and outlook on the world. I argue that all of our consultees have something positive to offer, irrespective of their background or beliefs.

I would argue that LM does offer learning opportunities – e.g. why water birds appear on high status votive metalwork or the application of Girard’s sacrificial theory to Lindow Man or Melanie Giles’ interpretation of Lindow Man in the context of bogs as liminal places. Seeing Lindow Man from the perspective of a member of the local community or a pagan are learning opportunities of a different kind but learning opportunities nonetheless.

The majority of the comments on the comments boards in the exhibition are not in fact negative. Over half the general comments are positive, the average and the negative are split evenly with the remainder. Of the specific comments, 38% are positive, 37% average and 25% negative. There are comments like ‘poor lighting, couldn’t see him’ ‘He’s ugly!’ and a particular favourite: ‘what’s with the MDF?’

Some valid points have been raised by the public (and we have done some work to respond to them) but general opinion towards the exhibition is favourable.

I hope this sheds some light on our approach and the response we had from the public to date.

Bryan Sitch
Curator of Archaeology
& Head of Human Cultures
The Manchester Museum

Comment by bryansitch

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Comment by sandrar

[…] comments. The exhibition and its associated events and activities attracted 190,000 people and generated favourable reviews in museum and archaeology journals. It has also been discussed in a number of articles, more in […]

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